Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's

July 23, 2018

The Best Player won the Open Championship

Carnoustie played as short and easy as it could possibly play for a major championship and still it proved to be a formidable test for the best players in the world. Carnoustie demands precise ball striking and a steady nerve. Francisco Molinari flew under radar as he played with Tiger Woods in the third to last group on Sunday. All eyes were on Tiger as he claimed the lead with eight holes to play. However, Francisco was matching Tiger's play with solid play of his own. Shortly in a stretch of 15 minutes, a double bogie and bogie spelled the end of Tiger's realistic chances. But Carnoustie did that to almost everyone in the field. Kisner, Spieth, Schauffele, Chappell all made a double bogie in their last round. Only Molinari was able to avoid the trouble and record a bogie free last round to claim the victory.

Even in a benign state, Carnoustie was still able to inflict its' punishment for the errant golf shot. Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Sergio Garcia, Hideki Matsuyama, Jon Rahm, and Bubba Watson couldn't survive the cut. World ranked players like Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka, Adam Scott, and Zack Johnson were in contention on the weekend, but didn't have staying power to avoid the disaster that this course can dish out on every hole. The last day featured wind that steadly blew between 15 and 25 miles an hour. Because of the change in conditions, the favorites to bring home the trophy changed. Anyone within five shots of the lead had a chance with the best ball strikers having the best chance. Woods, Rose, McIlroy, Fleetwood, and Molinari where the best candidates to make a run at the Claret Jug. In the end only Francisco was able to avoid the mistakes that sunk all his competitors.

The four players that finished two shots back in second place all could've won this championship. All lacked one or two clutch shots that could've been the difference. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy were surging at the end and just ran out of holes. Xander Schauffele had the best chance, but just didn't finish the deal. He did hit some pressure shots, but couldn't convert the putts. I don't believe he choked, but just wasn't up to the challenge this time. His composure and overall game make me believe he will be a major winner before too long. Jordan Spieth's showing is a bit of a mystery. A terrible decision on the par five 6th hole resulted in a double bogie. The mistake brought him down to six under par, which he held until the easy par five 14th hole. There he three putted from 40 feet for a par. A birdie there and he would be tied for the lead. From that point on, he didn't look like a four time major champion. Last year he played the final five holes in five under par. This year he didn't have the game or gumption to compete down the stretch. That's a mystery to me!

Tiger Woods played good enough to win, but so did four or five other players. His decision to play conservative the first two rounds cost him the ability to shoot lower numbers. By hitting irons off the tee, he effectively played the course 1,000 yards longer. Occasionally there was over 100 yards difference between his iron tee shot and those that hit driver. He was hitting second shots from 210 to 230 yards, while others were hitting wedges from much closer. At this level of play, you can't give up that type of yardage. Saturday he changed his strategy and the result was his best score in a major since shooting 66 at the Masters in 2011. Yes, he briefly held the lead with eight to play, but I think his play the first two rounds cost him this championship. The television coverage of Tiger showed almost every shot. I watched 80% of his shots this week. Balance, rhythm, composure was excellent. It appeared that he had his "A" game working for him. In the past, with that game, he wins. Tiger still has one more piece of the puzzle to figure out. Watch out, when (not if) he does, it might be historic.

The "Champion Golfer of the Year" was clearly the best golfer this week. Great ball striking and a cool demeanor was the successful combination for this year's Open Champion. Francisco Molinari's win is a little bit of a surprise, but not if you look at his stellar career. He "won" this Championship by doing what was required on a demanding golf course. Carnoustie held up to the challenge again and won and produced a rightful winner that deserves the British accolade, "Well done."

July 13, 2018

A Ben Hogan story from the 1953 Open Championship at Carnoustie

Ben Hogan only played in one British Open. That was in 1953 at Carnoustie. He had already won the Masters and the U.S. Open earlier that year. The PGA Championship and the British Open, in 1953, overlapped and therefore prevented a golfer from playing in both. The Grand Slam was not a recognized thing during this time. It became a coveted goal in the 1960's when Arnold Palmer talked about winning all four in one year. Hogan was persuaded to play in Scotland as something he should do at least once in his life. After winning the Open Championship at Carnoustie, Ben Hogan was given a "tickertape parade" through New York for his three major victories that year.

Sidney Lanfield was a Hollywood director and producer. He directed the 1951 movie of Ben Hogan's life and recovery from a near-fatal car crash in 1949, which was called "Follow the Sun" and starred Glen Ford as Hogan. Sidney and Ben became very close friends and they and their wives would socialize and take vacations together. I became friends with Mr. Lanfield when I was the assistant golf professional at Hillcrest Country Club in Los Angeles. The Hillcrest members were the top people in business, the top in the movie industry, and included many actors, comedians, directors and personalities. It was a really fun and interesting place to work as a young aspiring golf professional in the early 1970's.

This Ben Hogan story comes directly from Sidney Lanfield. He swore to me that it was true, but even knowing Ben Hogan's legendary concentration and determination, you have to make up your own mind to the total believability of my story. However, it adds to the mystic and overall dedication to golf that Ben Hogan possessed. I believe it. I don't think Ben was kidding.

Sidney claims that he persuaded Ben to play in the British Open. He agreed and Sidney and his wife Shirley and Ben and his wife Valerie traveled by ship to Scotland to play the Open Championship at Carnoustie. During the ocean crossing they ate all meals together and socialized as a group. Once in Scotland, they stayed in the same hotel and had adjoining rooms. Sidney ate every meal with Ben and walked and watched every round of golf that Ben played in Scotland. They arrived two weeks ahead of the tournament so Ben could adjust to the smaller ball and the course conditions. The Open test was grueling in those days, because everyone was required to play a 36 hole qualifier to determine the 100 players to compete for the championship. The Scots called him "The wee iceman". He didn't smile and had a steely stare would bore right through you. His golf was stellar from tee to green, but putting held him back until the last day. His precision off the tee was legendary and even more so on the par five sixth hole where he fit his driver in the smallest part of the fairway between the "out of bounds" on the left and the penal bunkers on the right. Carnoustie has renamed the sixth hole as "Hogan's Alley". Sidney and Ben ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together all four days during the championship. Hogan opened with a one over 73, and then closed to within two of the lead with a 71. The last day was a demanding 36 hole final. Hogan shot 70 in the morning and was tied with Roberto De Vicenzo. In the final round Ben fired a course record 68 to win the championship by four shots. A reporter asked if the train bothered him on the ninth hole when he stood over a four foot putt for par. His response was, "I didn't know there was a train in this area". He had only been there for almost three weeks!

Now comes the part that creates Hogan's legend. Ben had finished his acceptance speech and the interviews with the reporters. Over an hour had passed and he finally had time to mentally come down from his victory. He then sees his good friend and buddy that has had every meal with him and walked and watched every golf shot for 72 holes and says to him, "F**** you Sidney, where have you been for three days? I bring you all the way over here and you don't have the courtesy to watch one f***ing shot!"

Let that sink in. Was his concentration that focused that he could totally block out any human interaction and be that tuned-in to the only thing that mattered to him? Hogan's concentration is legendary, but could he really be that single minded for 72 hours and not be aware of those around him? Sidney swore that it is true. Myth or fact, in either case it's another story to be added to the Hogan mystic.

 

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