The Local Knowlege

My Usual Game

Is this idea so crazy that it just might work?

Not long ago, I received a promotional email from a golf course my friends and I have often played during the winter, called Lyman Orchards. That got my hopes up -- but the email wasn't an announcement that the course had re-opened; it was an invitation to celebrate "National Pie Day" with "a Free 6-inch Pie." And the pie wasn’t really even free, since you had to buy $25 worth of other crap in order to get it. And then the weather turned almost vengeful: driving rain and sub-freezing temperatures. And then we got snow.

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I’ve been passing this golf-free period by working -- or "working" -- and, when I think of it, throwing birdseed onto the hill outside my back door. And one day I noticed something interesting: the birds, with all their frenzied wing-flapping and hopping-around as they pushed and shoved each other to get at the seed, had cleared almost all the snow from the area where I’d been feeding them:

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That made me wonder: could bird power be harnessed to keep golf courses open during the winter? Spread birdseed with crop-dusting planes, which can’t have anything better to do until spring, and let birds take it from there? Fairways and greens only, to keep costs down? I don’t know; I’m not an ornithologist. But let’s try it.

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When my wife was in third grade, her Brownie leader didn't believe her when she said there was a bird with "tit" in its name, but my wife was right, and the photo above is proof. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago, on a day when there was no functioning golf course within a hundred miles of where we live, the Sunday Morning Group went out to dinner, at a sports bar called 1st and 10

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Hacker (real name) ordered something that isn’t on the menu anymore but that the chef will make for you if you know to ask for it:

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It's two hot dogs split the long way and wrapped in a tortilla with chili, bacon, cheese, and some other stuff, then dipped in batter and deep-fried -- and it comes with fries. I asked our waitress why it wasn’t still on the menu, and she said they took it off because no one but Hacker had ever ordered it.

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Quite a few guys showed up that night. One who didn’t was Stanley. The day before, he had reported, by email: “Had a golfer’s knee installed on Monday. Now rehabbing. Legs the same length.” Hacker visited him a couple of days later:

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Golfers who have knee replacements often figure they ought to get more handicap strokes. But shouldn't they actually lose strokes, to make up for how much better they feel? When I suggested that to the group, Stanley disagreed. "I have no doubt that the U.S.G.A. will soon ban this device,” he wrote from the rehab center. "However, my knee was installed prior to the change and is therefore grandfathered." We'll see.

The other thing we've been doing this winter is working on our relationship with our first (and, so far, only) official sponsor: Jagermeister. Our sweatshirts are at the embroidery shop right now, because we're having our names and some other stuff added to them. Even so, we've had a measurable impact on sales. A bridge partner of mine in Mississippi, who doesn't play golf but does read my blog, wrote to say that he is seriously thinking about buying a bottle. And Other Gene's wife, Diana, recently ordered some in a restaurant.

Just the beginning, my friend. Just the beginning.

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MyUsualGame

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News & Tours

Missing Links: A sleeker, healthier Jason Dufner and his bid to save his career

Stories of interest you might have missed…

Jason Dufner couldn’t help himself, as so many can’t. When he arrived in California for the Humana Challenge, he made the obligatory In-N-Out burger stop. It was an aberration. “This is a new Dufner -- 20 pounds lighter -- and so the side trip to a fast food restaurant was a form of cheating that was more reward than relapse,” ESPN’s Bob Harig writes in this story on Dufner’s new health initiative brought about by necessity. "If I didn't do it, I wasn't going to be able to play golf," Dufner said.

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Jason Dufner last summer; he's now 20 pounds lighter (Getty Images)

“[John Daly] is 48 now, says he's happy as a clam, especially ‘if I can hit my irons better.’ He stands and chats near the 18th green on a quiet Wednesday afternoon. He is as inconspicuous as anybody can be with snowball white hair, and red and white pants. The ever-present cigarette is lit…Fans draw to him as if he is magnetized,” Bill Dwyre of the Los Angeles Times writes in this column catching up with Daly.

***

It’s always fun to hear about Masters’ rookies planning their first excursions to Augusta National. So it is with British Amateur champion Bradley Neil, who is making a preliminary exploration of the course and is attempting to set up a date with countryman Justin Rose, Gordon Bannerman of the Daily Record writes. “[W]ith the tournament getting closer one of the things we want to get out of the way is the potential for being slightly overawed by the sheer scale of it,” his caddie Phil McKenna said.

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News & Tours

Mickelson vs. Mickelson: Competitive much?

Phil Mickelson recently shot 62 at the Bridges of Rancho Santa Fe near his home to break the course record of 63 held jointly by brother Tim Mickelson and Anthony Paolucci.

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Was Tim playing with Phil that day? “No, I wasn’t,” he said, “but if he had been I’d have gotten into his head and he wouldn’t have broken it.”

Phil also holds the course record at the Grand Golf Club in San Diego, a 64 that Tim threatened to break one day. Several years ago, I asked Tim about it.

“I was playing with Phil and a buddy of his, and I’d gotten it to nine under through 12,” Tim, the Arizona State golf coach, said. “And then he realized what was going on, and he got in my head on purpose, because he didn’t want me breaking his record. I ended up shooting 65.”

There was a time a few years ago when Tim held more course records in Southern California than Phil did, three to two. This latest puts Phil up now, four to two. Phil holds the course record at La Jolla Country Club (60) and the Plantation Golf Club in Indio (58).

Tim, whose handicap index is plus-3.1, still has course records at Del Mar Country Club (67) and the Farms (62), according to the Southern California Golf Association Directory.

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Celebrity

5 things to talk about on the course: "Deflategate," Jennifer Lopez, and saying goodbye to SkyMall

From sports to TV to politics (OK, so mostly the first two), we offer five hot topics that are sure to liven up your round of golf:

1. "Deflategate": The public has turned on the New England Patriots and NFL golden boy Tom Brady (it turned long ago on curmudgeon head coach Bill Belichick) in the wake of cheating accusations the team tampered with footballs. For those saying it's not a big deal because the Pats won their AFC Championship Game so easily, A.) you're wrong -- giving a pass on any cheating breeds more cheating, and B.) you're missing the point. This team has a terrible track record of other shady practices and it's time the league puts an end to it. Of course, it won't, and life will go on for the Pats and the NFL, and the Super Bowl will do record ratings. I mean, have you ever heard so many people talking about football?

Related: NFL stars who love playing golf

2. Weird PGA Tour news: In the past week, we've had Robert Allenby get "kidnapped," Tiger Woods have a tooth "knocked out," and Lee Westwood save a man from drowning in Barbados. But the most incredible thing to come out of any of this, though, is that someone charged $10,000 to Allenby's stolen credit card at Urban Outfitters and ABC liquor store. To whomever you are, congratulations. That is one impressive shopping spree.

PHOTOS: The year in golf WAGs

3. Jennifer Lopez: Between being a judge on "American Idol" and the release of a steamy new movie, "The Boy Next Door," Lopez is everywhere these days. And as evidenced by her recent dress at the Golden Globes, the 45-year-old star is still showing everything off:

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Good for her. A friend pondered, "Has any celebrity ever looked their absolute hottest at such an advanced age?" Great question.

4. Max Scherzer: There's an old saying that parents should put a baseball in their baby's left hand since good southpaw pitchers are so valuable (Are you listening, Dustin and Paulina?). But putting a ball in the right hand works too. Max Scherzer, formerly of the Detroit Tigers, just signed a seven-year contract with the Washington Nationals for $210 million. That's a lot of money to work one day per week during the season.

PHOTOS: The Oscars shows its anti-golf bias once again

5. SkyMall: On Friday, the in-flight catalog announced it has filed for bankruptcy. I know, I know, where will you ever find such a selection of lawn gnomes? Even if new ones aren't printed, hopefully, airlines will keep the old ones on planes for entertainment. Do they even change that much? This thing has been listed as a "best seller" as long as I can remember and yet I've never seen proof that one has ever been purchased:

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OK, so that could come in handy on a slow day at the office. . .

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Gear & Equipment

How Bridgestone is tweaking the dimple pattern in its e-Series balls to get you more distance

For nearly a decade, Bridgestone's e-Series balls, the e5, e6 and e7, have been aimed at average golfers looking to correct specific trajectory problems. They've also been the company's most consistently successful product line, accounting for routinely more than 50 percent of its market share. And for their entire history their development has been tied to Bridgestone's grassroots ball-fitting program that has steered golfers to a particular ball based on a launch monitor fitting with a driver. The company reports that it has conducted more than 264,000 ball-fittings as part of its Bridgestone Challenge.

So there would seem to be no reason to change the formula. And for the most part that's exactly the plan with the newest versions of e-Series balls, which continue the theme of a softer compression that gets progressively firmer as you move out from the center. 

Related: Our favorite products from the PGA Merchandise Show

But there is one noticeable exception in the new lineup. Each of the e-Series balls feature tweaks in dimple pattern aerodynamics geared to more distance. Those changes include what the company is calling "web" dimples, which more closely links its dual-dimple shaped depressions in a tighter pentagonal pattern to expand the surface coverage by 10 percent for more consistent flight. The result is a more penetrating flight with a shallower landing angle for more rollout.

The e5 uses a urethane cover over top of a large, soft compression core that gets gradationally firmer as you move out from the center. It's designed for higher flight with more spin on short shots because of its urethane cover.

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The low-spin e6 incorporates a low-spin mantle designed to mitigate off-center hit spin typically found in slices and hooks. The company calls it the softest multilayer ball on the market and it includes a soft compression gradational core, mantle layer and low-spin Surlyn ionomer cover. 

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The three-piece e7, which features a gradational core,  mantle layer and a Surlyn ionomer cover for low spin, is aimed at players seeking maximum distance who need their shots to fly lower. 

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Available at retail next month, each ball will sell for $28 per dozen.

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News & Tours

You must see the latest shot-of-the-year candidate from the European Tour

First, it was Andy Sullivan ushering in 2015 with an amazing recovery shot that set up the winning birdie in a playoff win over Charl Schwartzel at the South African Open. But less than two weeks later, Branden Grace may have already topped that effort.

Related: The best golf shots of 2014

In the third round of the Qatar Masters, Grace found himself surrounded by trees and in the sand on the fifth hole, yet somehow pulled off this incredible snap-hooked wedge shot:

"What a shot that is!" Check out this this incredible recovery shot from Branden Grace today at the #QatarMasters.

A video posted by European Tour (@europeantour) on

Of course, Sullivan probably deserves the edge for hitting his shot under more pressure, but in terms of degree of difficulty, we think Grace gets the nod. And if Grace goes onto win the tournament -- he has a share of the 54-hole lead -- his shot that turned his day around becomes even more significant.

"I thought I was just in the rough on the right but it must have had a big bounce to the right. Where it finished, I thought, this is going to take some magic," Grace said after his round. "I could only hit a big, snapping hook with a wedge and when I hit it, I couldn't see the ball. We heard the claps and the next thing I know I've managed to make a nice little five-footer for birdie. That definitely got it kick-started."

Not that we needed any reminder of this, but if the PGA Tour's motto is, "These guys are good," then the European Tour's easily could be, "These guys are good, too."

UPDATE: Grace shot a final-round 66 to beat Marc Warren by a shot. That gives the 26-year-old South African eight professional victories, including six European Tour titles. It also makes his remarkable recovery shot on Friday a lot more valuable.

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Gear & Equipment

Here's what the PGA Merchandise Show looks like on hyperlapse

The tyranny of Instagram's hyperlapse application means I couldn't speed it up enough to walk all the way from one end of the floor to the other, but here's a portion of the show near some of the major manufacturers. The clip takes us past GoPro and Oakley, around Callaway and Cobra, and past Titleist and the PGA's presentation stage. As you can see, it's pretty hectic. 

 

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A video posted by Luke Kerr-Dineen (@lukekerrdineen) on

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Gear & Equipment

Get ready to be able to see your golf swing from any conceivable angle

The search for the perfect swing may be a never ending journey, but the science of motion capture analysis tools is at least providing a road map. One of the latest is 4D Motion, which uses up seven sensors about the size of the Velcro closure in your glove attached to your hips, arm, wrist, chest, legs and club shaft to track the movement of both the club and your body as you swing.

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Set to be available in May and initially aimed at instructors, the 4D Motion uses the sensors to create a full-body, three-dimensional biomechanical model of every swing. It tracks everything from swing path and hip rotation to face angle and clubhead speed. Using a tablet, phone or computer, you can view the swing from nearly any conceivable angle, including from above.

Related: Our favorite products from the PGA Merchandise Show

"As a golfer, I always felt that I could never see yourself making a swing," says founder and CEO Sang Kim. "With this you can see everything your body is doing, not just the club. Another thing this can do is because it's so portable, you can use it on the course. So you can see how your swing changes for instance when there are trees right and water left."

Then again, maybe nobody wants to see that.

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Golf pads

That Pebble Beach view isn't priceless. It's $22 million.

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The Lodge at Pebble Beach is extra fantastic, but it can be a headache to get a room--especially during the AT&T in February and the Concours in August. 

Luckily, there's a solution. A 7-bedroom, 7.5-bath estate located adjacent to the 12th green is available for sale at $22 million. The 8,300-sqft. mansion at 3410 17 Mile Drive was built in 1981 and has a four-car garage. It's at the opposite end of the course from the lodge, but the professionally designed ornamental garden in back has plenty of room to store a fleet of golf carts for the ride over. 

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If you don't need quite that much space--or you want to closer to The Tap Room--another 17 Mile Drive property might be more up your street. Built just last year, the 8,500-sqft villa (shown above) is adjacent to the 15th fairway (but far enough off the firing line so you won't get pelted), and has "just" four bedrooms and six and a half baths. At $10.95 million, you'll have enough left over for hangar space at the Monterey Jet Center. 

Either way, you could be getting in just in time. The estate overlooking the 13th hole (shown below) owned by Richard Mellon Scaife was sold in October for $31.25 million--reportedly to billionaire Warren Stephens, whose father Jackson Stephens was the chairman of Augusta National. 

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That'd do, in a pinch. 

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Gear & Equipment

How early should you start your kids in golf? This company says as early as possible

ORLANDO -- Golf's future may ride heavily on the idea of growing the game with youngsters but one new manufacturer says they're not starting the game early enough.

"When you see a skier with his 1-year-old and you ask him when his son is going to start skiing, he's likely to say, 'He's already started,' says Kris Wilson, president and CEO of The Littlest Golfer. "But if you see that same guy at the golf course with his son and ask the same question about starting to play golf, he might say, 'Oh, I don't think I'll start him until maybe he's 6 or 7. I think if you start kids early with the game, they become golfers for life."

So Wilson developed a set for beginning junior golfers called the TLG First Set ($100), aimed at youngsters 18 months to 3 years old. The set includes three ultralight, high-impact plastic training clubs with composite shafts, foam balls, a tiny Sunday bag and an instructional DVD. Most notable are the soft, pre-formed grips designed to place a youngster's hands on the club properly every time.

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The Asheville, N.C.-based company also markets golf-inspired clothes for youngsters and even babies (including a polo one-zee), as well as golf books and matching themed slacks for parents.

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