The Local Knowlege

Equipment

A driver designed only for Tiger Woods now can be yours

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There are many aspects of Tiger Woods that remain distinct, anomalous and separate from the rest of professional golf. One of the more complicated and unique might be his driver.

Nike announced today that it is making available a limited edition version of Woods’ specific Vapor Speed driver, a club that director of engineering Nate Radcliffe says is “very different” in terms of its properties compared to the stock versions of the Vapor Speed and Vapor Pro drivers.

“Certainly anybody on our staff who wanted to play this driver could,” Radcliffe says. “But Tiger is so unique from an athlete perspective that he is really the only player that this driver appeals to. Most of our tour players have moved to larger parts.”

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The new Vapor Speed TW is a 420cc model, smaller than the standard issue Vapor Speed  or Vapor Pro (460 cc), the latter preferred by Rory McIlroy. Its center of gravity is both closer to the face and to the hosel axis compared to the standard clubs. Players with a little more hand action in their swings are likely to prefer a center of gravity that’s more forward. When the center of gravity is positioned deeper, those types of players tend to have a sense that they have less effect on how the club moves in the swing.  

While Woods has played and had success with full-size 460cc clubheads before, he believes he is better able to shape shots with a smaller head that has less moment of inertia, or stability on off-center hits. Radcliffe says Woods remains that rare player today who “shapes shots by intentionally missing the center of the face. He’ll hit hold-off cuts by teeing it lower and then heels it a little bit. You just don’t see very many modern guys doing that, but he will strike the ball at different places on the clubface.” 

That’s where Woods believes he can take advantage of some of the baseline technology in the Vapor Speed driver. Specifically, the channel in the sole behind the face on all the Vapor drivers is designed to improve the face’s flexibility on off-center impacts. It’s an idea Nike originated in its VR line of drivers, and one Woods encouraged the design team to bring back with the Vapor drivers.

Originally, Nike’s designers built the shape and size of the Vapor Flex driver thinking Woods would gravitate toward it. As it turns out, the shape is correct, but the center of gravity locations on that adjustable driver is different. The Vapor Speed TW’s CG is actually located more forward than any other Nike driver, with the exception of the more forward position in the  Vapor Flex, which adjusts between a forward and rearward CG. 

“He’s certainly impressed me more than a few times in what he can feel,” Radcliffe says. 

Unlike the standard Vapor drivers, the Vapor Speed TW is only offered in Woods’ loft (10.5) and is a bonded, non-adjustable head. It comes standard with the Mitsubishi Rayon Diamana Blue 73X, Woods’ preferred shaft. 

“I think this is fair to the player who wants exactly what Tiger has,” Radcliffe says. “Everything is exactly the same as what we give to him.”

The limited edition club will go on sale June 1 ($400).
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Trending

Anthony Kim is playing golf for money again! (Sort of)

Anthony Kim's mysterious disappearance from pro golf continues, but it appears he'll pay for play at some point in the near future. Sort of.

According to NewsOK, a round with Kim was auctioned off at the 12th annual Toby Keith & Friends Golf Classic. There aren't any details on when the round will take place, but someone paid $24,500 to play with the three-time PGA Tour winner. Of course, that money will go to Keith's charity.

Related: Golf's all-time biggest phenoms

Kim, who hasn't played in a tour event in more than three years and who is reported to be sitting on an eight-figure disability settlement, was spotted at a Las Vegas nightclub in April. He turns 30 next month.

(h/t Golf News Net)

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Gear & Equipment

New TaylorMade CEO outlines brand's future plans

This is an extended version of a Q&A interview with TaylorMade's David Abeles that recently appeared in Golf Digest Stix. Abeles, 43, was named the CEO of TaylorMade Golf in March and gave us his first interview since taking the new job. Abeles brings more than 15 years experience in the golf industry with him to his new role, several of them coming working previously at TaylorMade. 

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Golf Digest Stix: It's your third stint with TaylorMade. How important is it to understand the culture of the company? 

To be successful in this job, it's important not just to understand the culture of TaylorMade, but important to understand the culture of the industry and that of the golfer. I am an authentic, passionate golfer. There is a strategic side of things that encompass success in this role and then there is an intuitive side. If you look at the best leaders in the industry, they have had both. An intuitive sense of what the golfer wants is critical.

 

What is the perception of the company right now, both in the industry and with consumers?

When you're a company that bases its product strategy on innovation -- which is design and development to optimize performance -- there are things you do very well to excite consumers and there are times you do things quicker than most would appreciate or understand. And that's fair, that's definitely fair. But we're in a good place. We move forward and bring exciting products to market so consumers will get off the couch and buy them. We also have an obligation to work with our retail partners in managing some of the inventory challenges they face as a result of us bringing the products to market. We're cognizant of that. It's not a simple fix, but we have good ideas as to how we want to work with our customers. When you pursue innovation as a strategy -- and that is our strategy -- great things happen. But you take a lot of risk. We're very creative, we use technology to optimize performance and we use the world's best players to validate it. We're not perfect, I'm the first to admit that, but no company is.

 

What did you learn in your time that away from TaylorMade? (Abeles left in 2014 to become CEO of Competitor Group Inc., an operator of marathon and half-marathon races.)

I learned that running and golf are different. Running is an inspiring sport to those who run. They run for health and wellness, for charity, for personal records. Golf is a very aspirational sport. When we see Dustin Johnson, Jason Day or Justin Rose hit a shot, we want to hit that shot -- and from time to time we actually do. So we aspire to that level. But the biggest learning for me was the interaction of brands and how it can elevate your business practices. One of the things we'll do at TaylorMade moving forward is build out an experiential platform. To engage golfers on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis so they can experience our brands and products in new ways.

  

Where do you see the growth categories for TaylorMade? 

My first three hours back here I went down to the R&D room to see what we were working on for the future. I spent four hours with our engineers. We work on technologies that are three, four, five, even six years out. Technologies that we feel can define our brand and products and how golf is played. Some of the technologies we can't commercialize yet. The future is bright for our product lines. We'll see solid growth in the metal-wood business and iron business, and we will strengthen our leadership there. We're growing our golf-ball business. We have hundreds of tour players around the world in our ball.

 

What about Adams?

It's taken us a while to get it positioned the right way, but we think we have it right now. It's a very friendly brand to play. What's misunderstood is that it is still a performance brand. It takes a lot of R&D and technology to make an easy-to-hit golf club. And in some cases, our tour players benefit from that.

 

What is one thing individuals can do to grow the game?

It's incumbent upon all of us as golfers to grow the game. To reach out to people of all skill levels. They're friendships for life and they are experiences that grow the game. There's a responsibility for us to play with those who are less skilled. This will bring more golfers to the sport along with all the formal initiatives. There's a lot of energy surrounding golf now. We need to capitalize on that positive energy rather than the negative things people are saying about the sport.

 

How important is social media in promoting your brand?

Short answer: It's critically important. To give golfers around the world access to Dustin Johnson, Sergio Garcia and Justin Rose, to actually interact with them. It's amazing. When you can interact with the world's best, it brings people in. It's wonderful for us as well. It plays a huge role in our marketing strategy and just in the industry in general. And it will be a major part of how we promote the game in the future.

When you got the new job and met with your staff, what was the first thing you told them "this is what we need to work on"?

It's funny you ask that because I actually asked myself that question. What's important to us is that we continue to push downfield on great technologies and bringing great technologies to market. We want to build an environment for our people and create something where people want to be associated with our brands. Are we relentlessly innovating in everything we do? We want all golfers to feel about our company like our employees do and our athletes do. Our success will be contingent on that.



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Gear & Equipment

Here's why Rory McIlroy will wear four strange-looking shoes this week

By now we all expect Rory McIlroy to add a bit of flavor to his outfits, whether it's by wearing a loud belt, blocks of color or bold patterns. But he generally stays away from making fashion statements with his shoes—until now.

At the Irish Open this week McIlroy will wear four colorful, eye-catching Nike Lunar Control 3 shoes that were each designed by a kid whose life has been impacted by cancer. McIlroy, the Rory Foundation and Nike worked together with the Cancer Fund for Children, a charity in Northern Ireland that provides support to kids whose lives have been affected by cancer, to raise awareness through these NIKEiD designs.

Here's a roundup of the shoes you'll see McIlroy wear each day this week:

Round One: Designed by Sara Lockhart

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“I read online that Rory really likes different shades of green so I combined that with some of my favorite colors," said Lockhart, 12, whose mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. 

Rory's verdict: "I like the message she's put on the tongue. She wrote 'good luck' on them."

Round Two: Designed by Ryan Keenan

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“I chose the colors because it is for the Irish Open and they are colors associated with Ireland,” said Keenan, 16, whose mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Rory's verdict: "He's put a little message on the tongue saying, 'Go Rory,' so they're pretty cool for Friday."

Round Three: Designed by Chloe Hyndman

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“I picked black and white to make them look professional, but then added a print to keep them fun and recent," said Hyndman, 15, whose mom was diagnosed with cancer.

Rory's verdict: "I think these are pretty self-explanatory. You've got the little pebble/grain design, which is pretty cool, and purple with a little bit of blue in the laces."

Round Four: Designed by Alex Kernaghan

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“It says ‘Be You’ on my Nike shoes because that’s all you ever should be -- yourself," said Kernaghan, 13, whose father recently passed away from cancer. "I also added in a bit of blue as it’s my dad’s favorite color and yellow to represent the charity."

Rory's verdict: "Alex has designed these shoes which have basically every color in the rainbow...These are a pretty funky pair of shoes and I'm excited to wear them."

These NIKEiD designs can be purchased on NIKEiD.com (and a portion of the proceeds will benefit The Rory Foundation).

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The Grind

Chris Kirk comes up clutch, Bubba gets dunked, Miguel dances, and Keegan/Jillian go to a wedding

Welcome to another edition of The Grind, where we are just coming out of our annual Memorial Day hot dog coma. Or maybe it's more of a spicy brown mustard hangover. In fact, if we were ranking condiments, we'd go 1. Gulden's spicy brown mustard; 2. Trader Joe's spicy brown mustard; 3. French's spicy mustard; 4. All other kinds of spicy brown mustard we haven't tried yet; 5. All other condiments.

In any matter, we might have given Kobayashi a run for his money this weekend. It's a good thing hot dogs are so healthy. . . OK, so that's not true, but it was certainly a healthy weekend for golf. Let's get cooking.

WE'RE BUYING

Chris Kirk: Two weeks after a disappointing finish at the Players, Kirk finished off his fourth PGA Tour victory at Colonial with a clutch up-and-down on the final hole to avoid a four-man playoff. The 30-year-old University of Georgia product is now up to 17th in the Official World Golf Ranking. He's easily No. 1, though, among tour pros with two first names.

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To the Colonial victor goes a plaid jacket and one of the biggest trophies in the world.

Colin Montgomerie: Monty couldn't win a major during his prime, but now he can't seem to lose one on the Champions Tour. With a four-shot win at a difficult Pete Dye Course in French Lick, Montgomerie repeated at the Senior PGA Championship and won his third major in his last six attempts as a senior. He is 0 for 71 at majors on the younger circuit.

Behind the camera: Riding around TPC Sawgrass with Roger Maltbie

Byeong Hun An: Six years after winning the U.S. Amateur, An finally claimed another big tournament, winning the European Tour's flagship event, the BMW PGA, by six shots. In other words, maybe there's still hope for guys like Bubba Dickerson. The difference with An is he's still only 23. Do we need to add him into the "Era" conversation?

J.R. Smith: Unfortunately for the Cleveland Cavaliers guard, his team's success is keeping him from playing much golf these days. But on the bright side, Smith is playing the best basketball of his career. Smith made eight three-pointers in Cleveland's Game 1 win in the Eastern Conference Finals, but his mind remains on golf as evidenced by this tweet about divots. Hang in there, J.R. you'll be back to playing 36-a-day soon.

WE'RE SELLING

Kevin Na: In the past three months, Na has finished out of the top 20 once while racking up five top 10s. However, his play on Sundays has let him down. In contention, Na shot 72 at the Masters to fall to T-12, 71 at the Players to fall to T-6 and now a 72 (with preferred lies through the greens) at Colonial to fall from being the 54-hole leader to a T-10. He's on pace to have his best season ever, but oh, what could have been.

Photos: Meet the WAGs of the PGA Tour

Sinkholes: These things are positively horrifying. In case you missed it, one opened up at the Top of the Rock Golf Course just a month after the Champions Tour was in town. The course is known for it's stunning practice range, but how could you not be scared of falling into one of these the next time you're there?

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Francesco Molinari: After having at least a share of the lead at the BMW PGA after the first three days, Molinari shot a final-round 74 at Wentworth to drop into fifth. The Ryder Cupper hasn't won in more than three years. At least he still has bragging rights over brother Edoardo, who hasn't won since 2010.

Rory McIlroy: Just kidding! It's one bad week. He'll be OK.

ON TAP

The PGA Tour stays in Texas for the AT&T Byron Nelson. This year happens to mark the 70th anniversary of Nelson's incredible 1945 campaign that consisted of 18 wins, including a mind-blowing 11 in a row. We'll probably hear about that a few times during the TV broadcast.

Related: 15 signs you watch too much golf on TV

Random tournament fact: I found a golf ball with the event's course, TPC Las Colinas, while playing on Monday. Of course, this doesn't mean anything.

RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK

-- Someone will win 11 PGA Tour events in a row this year: 1 MILLION-to-1 odds

-- Webb Simpson will be a captain's pick over Chris Kirk again this year: 10-to-1 odds

Related: The top 25 golf viral videos in 2014

-- J.R. Smith would trade eight three-pointers in a game for eight birdies in a round: LOCK

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Miguel Angel Jimenez celebrating after making his third(!) hole-in-one of the year to set a new European Tour career record with 10.

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The 51-year-old also finished runner-up. Not surprisingly, he's perfected his celebratory dance:

VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK

Bubba Watson goes in the dunk tank:

QUOTE OF THE WEEK

"You get the right distance, the right club, hit a good shot and that's the ingredients you need to make a hole in one." -- Miguel Angel Jimenez. Sounds easy enough.

THIS WEEK IN MODERN-DAY TOUR PROS BEING MODERN-DAY TOUR PROS

Billy Horschel challenged Brandt Snedeker to a bet on Twitter involving their alma maters' baseball teams. But when Snedeker proposed the stakes -- loser wears their rival school's colors at the U.S. Open -- Horschel couldn't because his U.S. Open outfits had been scripted six months in advance.

Florida wound up beating Vanderbilt making Horschel the winner of the bet. If Snedeker wears blue and orange at Chambers Bay, that's why.

THIS WEEK IN NATALIE GULBIS MAKING US FEEL BAD WITH HER TRAINING/TAKING SELFIES

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Gulbis may have also just set the record for shortest shorts.

THIS WEEK IN RICKIE FOWLER-ALEXIS RANDOCK KEEGAN BRADLEY-JILLIAN STACEY PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION

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Keegan and Jillian were in NYC for the wedding of one of Keegan's friends. We hope to see them at their own wedding some day. (What are you waiting for, Keegan?!) 

THIS WEEK IN WILD HOLE-IN-ONE REACTIONS ON THE EUROPEAN TOUR (NON-MIGUEL ANGEL JIMENEZ EDITION)

Not to be outdone by the Mechanic, Andrew Johnston, aka "Beef," made an ace of his own at the BMW PGA on Thursday. Beef reacted to his shot and winning a new sports car by pulling off an impressive running chest bump:

THIS AND THAT

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Alabama's Emma Talley birdied the final hole to win the NCAA women's individual golf championship. She also won the 2013 U.S. Women's Amateur. If not for Lydia Ko, we'd probably be saying the LPGA is about to enter the Emma Era. . . . Peter Uihlein, the 2010 U.S. Amateur champ at Chambers Bay, will not be making a return trip there to this year's U.S. Open after failing to qualify. Too bad because he was one of the few potential players in the field with Mike Davis' recommended 10 practice rounds under his belt. . . . Congrats to Wake Forest men's golf coach Jerry Haas on finishing as low club pro at his first Senior PGA. Jerry, Jay's brother and Bill's uncle, put up with me for four years of covering the Deacs while I was in college. . . . Pictured are the cute farm boxes of golf balls on the range at Baltusrol. Yes, this is my cute way of telling you I got to play Baltusrol ahead of the 2016 PGA Championship. And yes, it was glorious.

RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER

Which pro would I most like to nail in the dunk tank?

Who has the best nickname in pro sports?

How can anyone prefer regular mustard to spicy brown mustard?

-- Alex Myers is an Associate Editor for GolfDigest.com. Feel free to email him and please follow him on Twitter since he has self-esteem issues.

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Celebrity

Video: Basketball star D'Angelo Russell's woeful attempts at hitting a golf ball

Presumably hand-eye coordination is an important aspect of sports, including golf, and presumably a college basketball star has great hand-eye coordination. So, presumably, he should be able to hit a golf ball teed up. Presumably.

But not in the case of D'Angelo Russell, a first-team All-American at Ohio State and projected to go high in the NBA draft. Here he is, in an Instagram video, attempting to hit a golf ball, woefully so, especially for someone who went to the same university that Jack Nicklaus did:

😂😂😂

A video posted by Dez Wells (@dezwells_) on

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Golf pads

You should buy Rory McIlroy's old house in Northern Ireland, because that would be a great conversation starter

Not so long ago we marveled at Rory McIlroy's 15,000-square foot Florida home and all the accoutrements that go with a superstar athlete's new digs. It's the type of place we'd like to retreat to after a tough day making birdies in bunches (or more likely in our case, after making four pars). But we should be clear that it wasn't like McIlroy was living in squalor before that.

In fact, McIlroy's old home, Robinhall House in County Down, Northern Ireland, is now for sale for $3.8 million. You should buy it, because that would be a handy ice breaker at cocktail parties.

64_671_ECS36157_6thumb1.jpgAmong Robinhall House's features:

-- Five bedrooms and five "reception rooms" over 7,200 square feet.

-- An eight-acre practice area and driving range, including several pot bunkers as seen here.

64_671_ECS36157_26thumb1.jpg-- An all-weather tennis court in case you happen to be dating a top-ranked women's tennis player.

-- And a sweet entertainment room in case you break up with your top-ranked women's tennis player girlfriend, but you still want to keep tabs on her progress.

64_671_ECS36157_24thumb1.jpgSome more photos here:

64_671_ECS36157_8thumb1.jpg64_671_ECS36157_21thumb1.jpgIf nothing else, you should try to get a tour of the house, because I'd bet good money McIlroy left behind a wedge in one of the closets.

Below, Mark Crossfield in "The Waggle" on everything a tour player's house has to have.


h/t The Mirror






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Courses & Travel

7 things you need to know about the Irish Open and the incredible Royal County Down

Ladies and Gentlemen, set your DVRs. 

Sure, three Senior British Opens were played at Royal County Down around the turn of the 21st century. But they were shown in lowly standard definition for a couple of hours on a summer weekend. And yes, the 2007 Walker Cup was briefly televised, showing us a thrilling match (plus those charmingly unflattering photos of Rory and Rickie) but without much coverage.

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Otherwise, Royal County Down Golf Club is mostly been known to the world by photos of two holes and to the lucky few guests who will never forget Northern Ireland’s mysterious masterpiece.

Until this week.

That’s when the hard-to-reach, hard-to-play and awe-inspiring course hosts the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open benefiting McIlroy’s foundation. The World No. 1 golfer brings his friends to the course Golf Digest rates the best outside of the United States. And for the first time it will be shown in full HD glory.

A few things to keep in mind when extensive Golf Channel coverage starts Thursday morning. 

-- The field at this European Tour tournament may be better than the tour's "flagship" event had a week ago. With a great course and Dubai Duty Free making the difficult journey to Northern Ireland worth their while, stars are flocking to Newcastle: Darren Clarke, Luke Donald, Victor Dubuisson, Ernie Els, Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Padraig Harrington, Miguel Angel Jimenez, Martin Kaymer, Graeme McDowell, Paul McGinley, Lee Westwood and last week’s BWM winner Byeong Hun An.

-- The course has almost as many architects as there are players in the field this week. For a change, that’s a good thing. Ran Morrissett wrote in his GolfClubAtlas.com review, “As with Oakmont Country Club and Pine Valley Golf Club, County Down stands apart as reminding one of no other course in the world in part because it was designed not by a professional architect but rather by strong willed people with a genuine love and feel for the game.”

A Scottish schoolteacher named George Baillie was the first to design nine holes here in 1889 or so. Then Old Tom Morris was paid “a sum not to exceed £4” to turn the Newcastle course into 18 holes. A series of major changes were made by a club captain, George Combe, that resulted in the core of today’s world-renowned layout. This was followed by suggestions from legends James Braid, J.H. Taylor, Harry Vardon and Ben Sayers before the great H.S. Colt created the famed fourth and ninth holes in 1925. More recently, Donald Steel strengthened the finishing holes, including the entirely new 16th that gives the finishing stretch a risk-reward short par 4.

-- RCD is “quirky” in the best sense. You know that word: it’s the label put on any course that includes blind shots and an unorthodox routing. As Morrissett noted in his review, there is little chance a Royal County Down-style course would be built today as players would want none of the blind shots and general craziness they'll get this week. No hole is more bizarre than the 483-yard ninth, where an inviting dune-top fairway plunges suddenly 60 feet straight down, as the awkward distance of 200 yards off the tee. Anyone who has played there will be hard pressed to knock this H.S. Colt idea. Unless you don’t carry it 200 yards (I did not, but I was only 15 and I’m still bitter about it).

-- What’s that beautiful red building and what are those amazing mountains? You’ll see no shortage of shots from the ninth fairway looking down on the town, where the Slieve Donard looms over the course. The high-end hotel and spa is the host for the week, offering players views of the course or the stunning mountain for which the resort shares its namesake. The Mourne Mountains are the highest in Northern Ireland (nearly 2,800 feet at Slieve Donard’s peak) and have been a favorite of hikers who enjoy its network of trails.

-- Royal County Down is not as remote as it seems. A two-hour drive from Dublin and an hour drive from Belfast doesn’t sound so bad except that it’s all by two-lane roads, making the logistical setup part of the story this week. Fans will be dropped off on the other side of Newcastle and be asked to take a 15-minute walk through the beautiful town. There are worse experiences to be had in golf spectating.

-- Golf Channel is offering no shortage of chances to see Rickie and Rory re-uniting at Royal County Down. Thursday the network is live from 3-8 a.m. ET, with a second live window from 11-1 p.m ET. Friday is one window from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET. The weekend is live too, with Saturday coverage starting at 8:30 a.m. and Sunday commencing at 8 a.m.

-- You can play Royal County Down and take a Game of Thrones tour, too. While it’s a private golf club, like most U.K. courses, they will gladly take your money to fund their operations and offer up their beautiful course for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Check out the details on Royal County Down’s website. For fans of the HBO show, the Winterfell Castle & Demesne, home to many of the visuals used in filming, is not too far away.

Finally, for some visuals to get you in the mood for Royal County Down, check out Ben Sargent’s two tours of a place we’re pretty sure you’ll never get tired of looking at.




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My Usual Game

How to hit a lob shot from the back of a pickup truck

Recently, the Sunday Morning Group held a shootout in which the prizes were some stuff sent to us by Famous Smoke Shop, our tobacco sponsor and smoking connection, which sells cigars online, by mail order, and in person (at the company’s headquarters and retail super store, in Easton, Pennsylvania). The format was lob wedge over the patio to the practice green, closest to the pin, from the bed of Fritz's pickup truck.

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The prizes were a cutter, a butane lighter, a humidor, and a handful of cigars. The cutter, the lighter, and the humidor had the awesome logo of one of Famous Smoke Shop's subsidiary websites, CigarMonster, which sells cigar-related gear. The cigars were Infernos.

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Fritz backed his truck up to the fence and dropped the tailgate. The truck's bed has a plastic liner -- good for spin. Climbing into the truck while holding a wedge, a ball, and a beer took some doing. Here's Hacker (real name) using the bumper as a step:

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And here's Nick P., taking a shot:


Nick's ball didn't stay on the green, so he didn't win anything, but he did earn points for bringing lunch, including an SMG semi-first: barbecued chicken.

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Mike A. and Peter A. came in first and second in the cigar shootout, and took the cutter and the lighter, respectively. Chic came in third and took the Cigar Monster humidor:

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Chic is our golf chairman. One Sunday, he came close to shooting his pants: waist size on the front, inseam on the back.

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After the shootout, we held a quick meeting to decide whether to play a second eighteen or go home and do chores (i.e., take a nap).

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News & Tours

Chris Kirk is far less boring than he'll let on

The problem for the CBS team on Sunday, as the Colonial wound to a close, was that they didn’t have anything to say about Chris Kirk--good or bad. By the time he stood over a seven-footer on 18 that would secure a one-stroke win over Jordan Spieth, they’d settled for descriptions like “steady,” while admitting a slight lack of “flair.” Even the euphemisms were bland, and their conundrum was apparent: Golf’s bright young wonder child waited in the wings, literally overlooking the green, and the man about to beat him was hopelessly boring.

And it’s not like Kirk took great pains to disprove them. When he sunk that seven-footer, to the secret chagrin of everyone, he gave a fist pump that fell somewhere between awkward and mundane. He wore a thin smile for the camera as he played with his two young sons and watched Ian Poulter fail to force a playoff. He was cordial to David Feherty, and he answered every question without complaint, but nobody would call him engaging. (You can judge a player’s charisma by the length of Feherty’s interviews--the Kirk conversation was short.)


This is why, despite the fact that he turned 30 less than three weeks ago and has been ranked inside the top 25 for almost a full year, you never hear Kirk’s name mentioned among the surging batch of millennials who have begun to dominate the sport--he may have just left his twenties, but he looks and acts like a 40-something who invests wisely and will never endure a midlife crisis.

Ask around about Kirk, though, and you’ll hear a different refrain: This guy is stubborn. The white-bread looks, the retreating manner, and the slight nasal quality of his voice all predict that he’ll wilt like a shrinking violet under pressure. But first impressions with Kirk are a red herring--on a golf course, he’s relentless.

It seemed to fit with my perception from interacting with Kirk in 2014--his reserve wasn’t the product of a man with nothing to say, but an active refusal to deviate from a path he had set for himself a long time ago--as far back as childhood. That word, stubborn, also describes him on the course when he’s in contention--his demeanor rarely changes, and he forges ahead with his mechanical swing and his unbending will, scorching the earth as he goes--unspectacular, unrepentant, and blindingly effective. 

“Stubborn” explains why he’s the rare PGA Tour pro who refuses to hire a full-time caddie, instead using a small rotation in order to keep things fresh. “Stubborn” is how he beat Rory McIlroy over two days at the Deutsche Bank last fall, at a time when nobody could beat Rory McIlroy. “Stubborn” is the word for his absolute refusal to speak a positive word about the Ryder Cup in the aftermath of that win, when even a modicum of enthusiasm would likely have made him a very attractive captain’s pick to Tom Watson.

And “stubborn” is the reason why he’s now won four PGA Tour events, which puts him among the best of his age group--when Chris Kirk is in contention on Sunday, it’s a good bet that he’ll bludgeon his stubborn way to a stubborn victory.

*

The relevant biographical details:

1. When Kirk was eight years old, his parents took him to a junior golf clinic near his childhood home in the Atlanta suburb of Woodstock, GA. At the end of the clinic, all the kids competed in a three-hole tournament. The holes were shortened to 150 yards, and there, the eight-year-old Kirk registered his first career win. They gave him a small trophy for his efforts, but it’s a fair bet that the organizer weren’t aware of the obsession they’d just spawned.

2. In first grade, sick of being called by his middle name ‘Brandon’ (a family custom observed mostly in the south), he told his teacher and classmates that he wanted to go by his first name, ‘Chris.’ He didn’t just ask--he insisted--and from that day forth he was Chris to his friends. Interestingly, he never demanded the same change from his family, and remained ‘Brandon’ at home. By the time he was in college, his mother would often ask Georgia head coach Chris Haack how ‘Brandon’ was doing, and Haack would give her a report on Kirk’s roommate, future Tour pro Brendon Todd. Confusion abounded.

3. Kirk’s passion was so extreme that his parents actually worried that he’d gone over the deep end. His intense focus and natural shyness meant he had virtually no social life in high school--he read golf books and studied famous swings instead--and as long as he managed to keep his grades up, his parents gave him free license to follow his obsession wherever it led. Even the picture on their mantle came back to golf--Kirk as a sophomore in high school, with long sideburns and braces, standing beside Davis Love III at a junior event.

4. Kirk looked like a perfect recruit for Chris Haack at Georgia, though Gary and Kim warned the coach that their son was hard-headed--which was confirmed almost immediately. 

Unlike most coaches, Haack runs a complex qualifying system to determine who will represent Georgia in tournaments. As a freshman trying to make the big tournaments, Kirk came close time and again before faltering at Athens’ Jennings Mill Country Club in the final round. There, Haack watched him reach the verge week after week, only to attempt to use driver on the par-5 16th, a high risk/reward hole with out-of-bounds markers surrounding the narrow fairway. Even when he found himself in position to make the cut, Kirk would opt for driver instead of a safe four-iron, inevitably hitting out of bounds, making seven or eight, and missing out by a stroke.

“You would think he’d learn his lesson,” Haack recalled, “but the next qualifying event, he’d do the same thing again. You’d say to him, ‘have you ever thought about backing down on that hole?’ But he was so stubborn that he wouldn’t do it. It was like he was out to prove to you that the driver was the right play, so he went through almost an entire fall with this happening to him every week.”

Finally, not knowing what else to do, Haack deputized him as an assistant coach and took him to the Jerry Pate in Alabama. They set up shop at a drivable par-4 on the back nine, where Kirk’s job was to advise each player off the tee. All of them, of course, hit it everywhere except the spot Kirk had pointed out. He came back to Haack, steaming.

“These guys won’t listen!” he grumbled, missing the irony.

5. In 2010, playing on the Nationwide Tour, Kirk traveled to Fingal, Australia to play in the Moonah Classic. He had never won a professional tournament, but after making birdies on 14 and 15 on Sunday, he led the field by two strokes. Three pars, or even two pars and one bogey, and the tournament was his. Instead, he tried to be too aggressive, and bogeyed 16 and 17. Now he was tied with Jim Herman, but Kirk hit a pinpoint approach on 18 and had a four-foot putt to win the tournament outright. He missed.

When he emerged from his mini-depression, he internalized Haack’s lesson: In certain situations, it’s okay to play conservative golf.

Four months later, at the Fort Smith Classic in Arkansas, he was there again: A three-shot lead with three holes to play on Sunday. There was nobody on the course to challenge him; just like in Australia, he could only beat himself. He remembered that awful Sunday, and he took the lesson to heart--he aimed for the middle of the greens, two-putted for pars, and tapped in on 18 for his first professional victory. 

*

And we know the rest--the four wins, the triumph over Rory. 

Like most intrinsic qualities, Kirk’s stubbornness can be an asset and a detriment. When he won the Deutsche Bank, he adamantly refused to show any enthusiasm for the Ryder Cup, to the point that the AP’s Doug Ferguson jokingly asked if he would make something up. 

“I don’t know,” he told me later. “Maybe it’d be a better story if I was like Keegan [Bradley], and was freaking out about it and really, really excited and going nuts, but I’m just not.”

Finally, I understood--if Watson wanted to pick him, great, but he wasn’t about to kiss the ring. Even by PGA Tour standards, Kirk is a capital-I Individual, and he’s not interested in faking anything, for anyone. 

*

The CBS announcers at the Colonial politely dodged the word “boring,” but my guess is that the label wouldn’t bother Kirk. He has self-belief, and a professional golfer can’t ask for a better gift, because it girds him against criticism and doubt. It’s not that Kirk was destined to make the putt at Colonial. It’s just that, unlike you or I, and unlike the majority of his fellow pros, he was too stubborn in that white-knuckle moment to believe he could miss. 

So walk away Jordan, from your perch overlooking the 18th, and take solace in that green jacket. This year, the tartan version belongs to the hard-headed Georgian--the man with the thin smile, who is far less boring than he’ll ever let on.

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