Grouchy Golf Blog

Tuesday, March 29, 2005 at 8:28 PM

NBC Golf - Light on Humor, Heavy on Innovation

NBC is one of the big 3 over-the-air U.S. television golf broadcasters. NBC's point man is Johnny Miller, an interesting commentator because he has many opinions that he's not afraid to voice. For that, I respect him. But he and his compatriots are about as funny as my foreign-speaking grandma that I don't understand. Because I value wit and humor in my golf coverage, NBC is my least favorite golf announcing team.

However, NBC makes up for it somewhat with technological innovation. While CBS has and ABC has , these are really just super slo-mo cameras. NBC will do the generic slo-mo every once in awhile, but they also experiment with new camera angles and viewpoints. Remember when NBC affixed a miniature camera on the bill of Tiger's Nike cap at the Williams World Challenge several years ago and called it the ""? It was the first time someone not named Tiger could see the game's best swing from a first-person perspective.

Then in 2002, NBC introduced the Matrix-inspired, wraparound-angle camera effect called "Swing View." The technology utilizes more than 30 cameras to capture golf swings in motion from different angles. Johnny Miller used the technology quite effectively to slo-mo a golf swing, stop it, and then swing the camera around to another angle to break down a player's swing. While it was a little rough around the edges, it was another great innovation.

At last year's U.S. Open, NBC debuted the Bunker-Cam, a microscopic camera embedded in the lip of the front bunker that can pan and tilt by remote control. It's kinda cool, but no real value.

NBC was supposed to introduce another innovation to golf coverage at last weekend's Players Championship. Called the "Cable Cam", it features a camera on a cable that is capable of moving up to 60 mph as it tracks the shots on the par-3 17th. I watched most of NBC's coverage, but I didn't notice any shots from the Cable Cam. I assume the weather prevented NBC from using it, a real shame.

I applaud NBC for taking technology to golf coverage. My only complaint is that they don't use this stuff often enough and on a consistent basis. Maybe one day, golfers will play tournaments wearing "Eye of the Tiger" cameras. If that ever happens, you can be certain to see it on NBC first.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005 at 8:52 AM

Kenny Perry - A Golf Winner for the Masses

It was another great finish yesterday at the Bay Hill Invitational. Kenny Perry emerged the victor after another charge from Vijay Singh.

To be honest, I never thought much of Mr. Perry. He's an old family guy with a hitchy swing. He coaches his kids' golf teams in the off-season. All well and good, but kinda boring.

But yesterday I became a Kenny P fan. It started when Kenny missed the fairway and the green at 15. You could feel the momentum shift as Singh trimmed Perry's three-shot lead to two. Kenny continued to leak oil on the par-5 16th with a chili-dipped chip that left him with a 28 feet putt. He saved par, but Singh birdied. Lead down to one.

The calm demeanor that Perry possessed throughout the tournament faded. You could see it on his face. His eyes widened and his crow's feet wrinkles deepened. Was it stress or was it focus? Probably both. But it was real. No fake smiles here. He played the best golf all week, and yet he was crumbling at the very last moment. It was the kind of thing that happens to all golfers: the wheels were falling off.

They fell completely off at the par-3 17th. Nerves took over and Kenny putted the ball 7 feet past the hole. Another shot lost. A 3-shot lead lost in 3-holes. The agony hit a chord with me and golfers around the world.

By the last hole, I think we were all rooting for Kenny. We all saw a little bit of ourselves in him. We saw that the psychological trauma of losing your game for no explicable reason could overtake the pros just as easily as it could overtake the rest of us. But we wanted Kenny to exorcise those demons. If he could do it, then maybe, just maybe, we could do it as well.

At the closing par-4 18th, both Kenny and Vijay hit beautiful drives. With 174 yards to the hole from a perfect lie in the fairway, Vijay hit first. His 7-iron looked perfect in the air on a direct line to the pin. But at its apex, the ball just stopped. It looked like it hit a wall as it dropped directly onto the rocks below and into the water. It was over. Kenny's wheels hopped back on and he won with a par.

The TV announcers claimed that it was a wind that halted Vijay's ball in midair. I say that it was divine intervention. Maybe golf karma? Did the golf gods use this opportunity to punish Vijay for his past? Whatever the reason, a win for Kenny was a win for us hackers. Oh, and be careful where you swing that sword Kenny, it's no sand wedge.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005 at 10:54 AM

All The Golf Ball?

One thing that I've noticed recently when I play golf is the number of 20-handicappers who'll say something along the lines of "this new ball that I'm using is adding at least 10 yards to my drives." I usually feign interest and say something patronizing like, "Wow, that's technology these days." They don't know it, but I'm rolling my eyes behind that enthusiastic veneer.

I blame the media. It's almost impossible to watch golf these days and not hear how the ball travels so much further than before. Some old-timers are even crying that the new balls are ruining the game.

One bitter old fart who's been harping on this topic is the former PGA Tour commissioner, Deane Beman. In a recent interview, Beman said, "I have a great deal of respect for the players today and what they can do. But many of them are being cheated out of really learning how to perfect their craft because of the technology they're playing with. If you put the old ball in front of them to play, it would be a massacre."

It sounds to me like he's yearning for the "good old days." People like this can't accept that today's golfers, and athletes in general, are much better as a whole than those in yesteryear.

I'm not saying that technology isn't a factor. I do think that the golf ball is eons better than before. However, I think that some of the things that the media is saying is misleading for the amateur golfer.

When the media says that the ball is longer than before, they mean specifically the ball that the pros use. As Paul Azinger acknowledged in a recent ABC telecast, the ball isn't necessarily traveling any farther now than before. For example, a Pinnacle distance ball from 5 years ago goes just as far, if not farther, as the latest Pro V1. The real difference is that the pros would never use a Pinnacle because it lacked spin.

There used to be a major tradeoff in ball performance between spin and distance. Since spin control is much more important to a pro than distance, high-spin wound balata balls were the norm on tour back in the day. While these balls felt like you were hitting a marshmallow, it went about as far as one too. If you wanted distance, you had to sacrifice spin and play with a two-piece solid core "rock."

However, with today's multilayer technology, ball manufacturers are able to produce balls that feel and spin like a wound balata, but travel the distance of a solid core ball. Therefore, the pros are able to achieve more distance without compromising spin control. On the other hand, most amateurs are accustomed to solid core distance balls. So when amateurs transition to the modern multilayer ball, they aren't gaining more distance. Rather, they're getting more spin control.

Unfortunately, it takes too much effort for me to explain all of this to every 20-handicapper who tells me that his ball is giving him "10 more yards." And who the heck am I to rain on anyone's parade?

P.S. Peter Kostis wrote an article on this very topic, "Stop Blaming the Ball!"


Thursday, March 10, 2005 at 12:05 AM

Wipe That Stupid Grin Off Your Face!

A clash of opposites concluded the Ford Championship at Doral last weekend. Many saw it simply as Tiger vs. Phil. But it was also vs. White, Buick vs. Ford, Nike vs. Callaway, and Batman vs. the Joker.

Batman vs. the Joker? Let me explain. I happened to watch the Batman DVD over the weekend and noticed some striking parallels to Phil and Tiger. In the movie, the Joker's face becomes disfigured in an accident. A plastic surgeon tries to reconstruct the Joker's face, but his hack job leaves the Joker with a permanent smile. No matter what the circumstance, the Joker is always beaming a disturbingly wide grin, 24/7. In this way, Phil is just like the Joker. When Phil hits a great shot, he smiles. When Phil hits a bad shot, he smiles. When Phil lost his lead to Tiger on the 17th hole, guess what? He smiled.

I tried to like Phil, I really did. But it's just not natural to smile that much, especially when something bad happens to you. Can you imagine if someone on your soccer team smiled every time your opponent scored a goal? You'd be infuriated. That's how I felt the few times that I tried to root for Phil. I wanted to shake him and say, "you're losing the golf tournament and all you can do is stand there and smile like an idiot?! Don't you care?"

I suspect that Phil's smiling problem is his attempt to mask his true feelings and personality rather than a Joan River's procedure gone awry. While I don't think much of Vijay Singh, I do agree with him regarding Phil. "Is that the true Phil?" Singh said when he was asked to compare his image to Mickelson's by Bryant Gumbel on HBO's Real Sports. "Is that the true person? Do you see the true side of Phil? I don't know. I cannot speak for Phil. But you see the true me. I don't hide things." I prefer to root for someone who wears his emotion on his sleeve. Someone who gets angry or at least more determined when losing. Call me crazy, but I just want to cheer for the person that appears to have the same desire to win that I would.

When I read about Mickelson's lack of motivation at last year's Ryder Cup, he lost me completely. "I attribute my performance (in the Ryder Cup) to motivation," he said. "I wasn't willing to put in enough work to play good golf." Representing your country alone should provide ample motivation in my book. I wonder how the countless number of troops deployed around the world that are risking their lives so that individuals such as Mr. Mickelson could be free to make a grandiose living playing golf would feel about his sentiments. It will always be a mystery to me why so many people love Phil. At least Skip Bayless of ESPN doesn't.

Oh, and how is Tiger like Batman? Like Batman, Tiger usually wins.

P.S. It turns out that Phil's peers on the PGA Tour have nicknamed him "". How appropriate!


Tuesday, March 01, 2005 at 11:09 AM

Golf Scooter?

When Dean Kamen first introduced the Segway Human Transporter in December 2001, he revealed one of the most hyped inventions of all-time. Corporate luminaries who'd gotten sneak previews described the machine's impact as being "as big as the PC" and "bigger than the internet." Kamen himself boasted that his creation "will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy." He even believed that the Segway had the potential to alter society. He claimed, "If the Segway HT is widely adopted, it could help solve major urban problems, such as pollution, congestion and livability."

With these kind of claims, I was expecting a futuristic 'Jetson's-style' anti-gravity device. What a letdown when I found out that the Segway was just an overpriced electric scooter. Yeah it was cool. But at about $4,000, I can think of much cooler things to buy. I guess most people felt the same since a Segway sighting today is about as common as a Bin Laden sighting.

It appears that Mr. Kamen believes that the Segway may find success on the golf course. Today, his company introduced the Segway GT, a version of the Segway customized specifically for golf. Equipped to carry a golf bag, ice chest, scorecard and GPS equipment, the Segway GT is supposed to transport a golfer at speeds up to 12.5 mph. The company claims that the Segway GT's lighter weight, size and differential wheel speed is gentler on turf and will allow access to areas restricted to golf carts.

Will it succeed? Probably not. I'm sure any course that offers them will charge more to rent them than the green fees itself. My guess is that courses may buy one or two to rent out as a novelty. But I'm in favor of anything that can improve the 6 hour rounds at my muni.