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News & Tours

Jennifer Johnson to turn pro after one year at ASU

There had been speculation since the spring that Jennifer Johnson's freshman season at Arizona State might be the only year she spent in Tempe, that pro golf was calling and the 18-year-old from LaQuinta, Calif., couldn't resist the sound. Every time I inquired with her about the subject, however, Johnson insisted the rumors weren't true.

I was able to confirm this morning, though, what was first reported by MyDesert.com yesterday, that Johnson indeed will turn pro after competing as an amateur in one last event: next week's U.S. Women's Open (she earned an exemption into the field by finishing runner-up at last year's U.S. Women's Amateur, but the exemption requires she be an amateur for it to be used).

Johnson told ASU women's coach Melissa Luellen of her decision Monday and has been in contact with her teammates about it over the course of the past few days.

"It was a hard call for her to make, and it was a hard call for me to take," Luellen told Golf World. "We loved Jennifer and had so much fun with her her freshman year. We obviously wish her a ton of luck and hope she'll be a great Sun Devil alumni on tour.

"I thought we'd have her for another year," Luellen noted when asked about the timing of the decision. "But big life desicions are hard to make. I think she thought long and hard. She's a great student and as all college athletes know, academics is a big piece of [college life]. She did great academically. She just wanted to spend 100 percent of her time working on her game."

This decision comes despite the fact that twice in the last month Johnson insisted that she was going to return to ASU in the fall. When the rumors of a possible departure surfaced at the NCAA Championship in May—where she finished second to help her secure national freshman-of-the-year honors—she said she had thought about it but would play another season for the Sun Devils. Then at the Curtis Cup earlier this month, after Golf Channel reported during its telecast that Johnson was going to turn pro, she denied that was the case.

Johnson's first event as a professional is likely to be the Duramed Futures Tour's Alliance Bank Golf Classic in Syracuse, N.Y., July 30-Aug. 1 ... Read
News & Tours

Finchem: An even keel in an economic storm

NEWTOWN SQUARE, PA. - PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is, by training, an economist and a lawyer and, by profession, a politician - in the Jimmy Carter White House - and an administrator. Needless to say, he has had a lot of practice employing phrases like "vagaries of the marketplace." This man does not speak in bumper-sticker shorthand and rarely hands out a catchy phrase on which you can hang your journalistic hat. Finding a catchy quote from Finchem is like stumbling upon a Democrat in pro golf - rare indeed.

The reason Finchem has not only survived but thrived for 16 years as commissioner is not because of his oratorical eloquence but because he took over a very good product groomed for him by Deane Beman and made it better. Under Finchem, purses have skyrocketed, TV exposure has expanded enormously and the game has become truly one without borders, both in its players and its venues. Oh, and his constituency -- the players -- have become very wealthy.

There is, in the way Finchem approaches matters, a calm and a refusal to panic that suggests he was not only the perfect man to lead the tour in good times but is also even better to serve it in the bad. Speaking Wednesday at the AT&T National at Aronimink GC near Philadelphia, Finchem acknowledged that "the economy continues to lag" and that some events are without sponsors, but at the same time calmly added: "We don't anticipate any need for contraction" in the 2011 schedule.

That's a pretty bold statement from a guy facing potential holes next year at the Doral-WGC event, Memphis, Hilton Head, Reno-Tahoe and the Bob Hope - at the very least. But they are also the words of a man who understands well the value of his product. "We are basically on track with where we are in most years, good or bad economy, in terms of the amount of work we have to do either to renew sponsors or bring in new sponsors," Finchem said. "The market is generally soft, but our product continues to perform well."

And they are also the words of a man who also understands his product is going to have to make some modifications in the way it operates. One of those modifications is a plan to designate some tournaments deemed to be weaker that will form a pool from which players will have to select one to add to their schedule. Finchem said such a proposal would have to be presented to the PGA Tour Board by September in order for approval - or rejection - to occur in time for the 2011 season.

"Tournament regulations need to be approved twice by the Board," Finchem explained. "It's a fail-safe mechanism that keeps us from doing damage to ourselves. And, in this case, you would want the fourth quarter to educate the players and tournaments how it would work."

And that is exactly an example of how Finchem works: Far more substance than sizzle. And isn't that refreshing? Isn't that the way it should be?

-- Ron Sirak

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Courses & Travel

A Postcard From Wales, Day 4

These golf trips are always a blur. By day four I was distracted by a lack of sleep. So much golf by day, followed by watching soccer and then other stuff by night. (Please send all sympathy to: matt.ginella@golfdigest.com.)

On this day I stumbled from a slumber to meet John Wake, a former senior detective in the local police force:

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Wake says that he never carried a gun but he was stabbed several times in the line of duty. He grew a moustache to hide a scar he got when he put his lip in the way of a perpetrator’s blade.

Wake is currently a human Google of Celtic history, including castles, King Arthur (did he exist?), lighthouses, industrial archeology and . . . wait for it . . . Vietnamese potbelly pigs. (If you want to know, it’d be best to let Wake explain.)

Safe to say that Wake is a lot of things, and when my travel story comes out in August, I’ll post a video of the Cardiff tour he conducted, but he’s not a golfer. “No thank you,” he says. Again, he’s a smart man. He’s also an author and a songwriter. He has written several books (none have been published yet) but some of his songs are on YouTube. This is “The A470 Song, The Iconic UK Road to Wales.”

Not bad. Among other things, Wake showed me the National Museum of Wales:

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The Cardiff University:

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The Welsh National War Memorial:

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And the Castell Coch:

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It was a great tour. If you have a small group (two or three) and you’re also serious about any subjects that are in Wake’s wheelhouse, you can reach him by e-mail: info@wales-tours.com

Wake cracked me up and he could charm the crown off a queen, so keep your wives or girlfriends at an arm’s length.

On the subjects of loved ones, in the afternoon I went back to Royal Porthcawl for one more round at my latest on my list of favorites:

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I like it so much that I actually spoke to Martin Bond, the club secretary, about the cost of overseas memberships.

He told me there were a few options. Either way I’d have to spend some time there and get to know a few of the local members. If I was serious, eventually I’d need some sponsors. But the first and most realistic option is to try for a “country membership.” I’d pay about $750 annually and that would cover all of my golf, regardless if I played three or 30 rounds per year. (It would take about five rounds to make it cost-effective.)

The other option is an overseas life membership, which is a single payment of a little more than $20,000, and then you’re a member for life. (Locals pay a little more than $2,000 annually to be a member at Royal Porthcawl.)

I didn’t see them, but there are 12 rooms at Royal Porthcawl. They’re called dormys, and I get the sense they aren’t much bigger than dorm rooms (six are singles and six contain twin beds). “They’re more functional than luxurious,” says Bond, “but they satisfy a need.”

You’d pay $67 per night for a single and $60 per person per night to stay in a twin. Both prices include breakfast. Bond says, “A lot of our guests roll out of bed, have breakfast, play 18 holes, eat lunch, go back for another 18, eat dinner, have a few pints and then go to bed.”

I was tempted to ask Bond if he’d be my first sponsor. And then I had one more pint while I waited for a cab to take me to Celtic Manor. Cheers:

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--Matty G.

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News & Tours

Amateurs set to play at Oakmont

Blogger note: Rebecca Lee-Bentham was first alternate and got into the field early this week increasing the number of amateurs to 29

The field is just about set for next week's U.S. Women's Open at Oakmont. Currently there are 28 amateurs competing compared to 29 last year (Kimberly Kim and Belen Mozo were amateurs when they qualified but are playing as pros in the championship, according to the USGA). Of the amateurs in the field, 20 of them are current college players, have just finshed their final year in school or are arriving on campus in the fall.

Brittany Altomare, Virginia*
Sandra Changkija, Nova Southeastern
Kaitlin Drolson, Pepperdine*
Courtney Ellenbogen, Duke*
Janine Fellows, Tulane
Cindy-Yueer Feng, HS Class of 2014*
Jaye Marie Green, HS Class of 2012
Numa Gulyanamitta, Purdue
Jennifer Johnson, Arizona State
Sara-Maude Juneau, Louisville
Ariya Jutanugarn, HS Class of 2014
Danielle Kang, Pepperdine*
Jennifer Kirby, Alabama
Stephanie Kono, UCLA*
Jessica Korda, HS Class of 2011*
Laura Kueny, Michigan State
Alison Lee, HS Class of 2013*
Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Texas
Tiffany Lim, HS Class of 2011
Lisa McCloskey, USC
Juliana Murcia, Arizona State
Sun Gyoung Park, Yale
Lizette Salas, USC
Kelli Shean, Arkansas
Victoria Tanco, HS Class of 2012*
Gabriella Then, HS Class of 2013
Sally Watson, Stanford
Christine Wong, San Diego State
Nicole Zhang, Notre Dame

* Has played in a previous U.S. Women's Open

... Read
News & Tours

Dustin Johnson: Scars 'gone when I left California'

NEWTOWN SQUARE, Pa. - If Dustin Johnson bears any emotional scars from his epic implosion during the final round of the U.S. Open, they are well hidden. At least that's the case when he's behind a microphone. We'll find out Thursday when he tees it up at the AT&T National whether the wounds reopen when he is swinging a golf club

When last we saw young Dustin, you'll remember, he was adding up 82 strokes after blowing a three-stroke lead Sunday at Pebble Beach. He took last week off, in part to enjoy his 26th birthday and in part to chill out. Thursday he'll be back at work, paired with Tiger Woods and Davis Love III in the opening round of the AT&T at Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia.

"It was gone when I left California," Johnson said about the possibility his collapse at the Open will follow him. "It was a tough day. Golfers have tough days. You just have to put it behind you. I still finished in the top 10. It's not like I had a terrible week or anything." Well, those are all the right words to say.

Johnson says his cell phone didn't stop buzzing in the days right after Pebble Beach, mostly from friends trying to comfort him. But he did get a call from someone who could relate to what Dustin must have been feeling.

"I got a call from Greg Norman," Johnson said. "He said golf is a learning process non-stop." Then, saying what perhaps didn't need to be said, Johnson added about Norman: "He's been in my situation a few times. As if we needed to be told that: See 1996 Masters. Six-stroke lead. 78 strokes.

Asked his regrets about the final round at Pebble Beach - the left-handed shot, the hurried shots or the missed two-footer on No. 2; the needlessly aggressive tee shots on No. 3 and 4 - Johnson said: "If anything, maybe I should have been a little more aggressive in my approach shot on 2." That was the shot that ended up in the rough that led to his triple-bogey 7, followed by a double bogey and a bogey.

Johnson will also get some encouraging words from Woods. "It happens," Tiger says he will tell Johnson when they play Thursday, pointing out that he played with Mike Weir when Weir shot 80 in the final round of the PGA Championship, and then went on to win a Masters.

"Just because it happened doesn't mean you can't win again," Woods says. "He has the talent to have the lead in the last round of the U.S. Open. You just have to pick yourself up and do it all over again."

That seems to be exactly the attitude Johnson is bringing into Aronimink this week. But it's also an attitude that's easier to have on a Tuesday than it is on a Thursday - or on a Sunday. That is just a matter of wait and see.

-- Ron Sirak

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News & Tours

The end of early verbals?

The lamenting among college golf coaches about the accelerated recruiting process involved with junior golfers—players committing to schools well before their senior years, causing coaches to offer scholarships earlier and earlier, causing players to commit earlier, and so on and so on—might be addressed in the coming years, thanks to similar issues being faced by coaches in several other college sports.

According to a story in the NCAA News, the Division I Recruiting and Athletics Personnel Issues Cabinet, which was formed to analyze college recruiting on a macro level rather than merely a sport-by-sport basis, has proposed legislation to stop early verbal scholarship offers to prospective student-athletes in all sports.

The proposal would prohibit verbal offers of athletically related financial aid before July 1 after a prospective student-athlete's junior year in high school. The proposal would also require schools have at least a five semester (or seven quarter) high school transcript on file before a coach could extend any verbal offer.

In turn, the cabinet is also proposing that begining Aug. 1 of a prospective student-athlete's senior year, schools would be permitted to make two phone calls to the player or his parent/guardian

Among the concerns of Petrina Long, the cabinet's chair, was compliance officials ability to monitor the proposal's enforcement.

The proposal is expected to be introduced into the 2010-11 legislative cycle with the Legislative Council casting its first official votes on the proposal at the NCAA Convention in San Antonio next January.
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News & Tours

Forbes: Tiger trails Lady Gaga (and three others)

Tiger Woods is No. 5 on the Celebrity 100, Forbes' annual list of the 100 most powerful celebrities, the same rank he held on the list a year ago.

Woods, who has ranked as high as No. 1 on this list, trails only Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce Knowles, James Cameron and Lady Gaga. Phil Mickelson ranks 45th.

The list is here.

-- John Strege

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Courses & Travel

A Postcard From Wales, Day 3

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From the moment the flimsy security gate goes up at the entrance of Royal Porthcawl Golf Club (1891), I get the sense that this is the course that would anchor any golf trip to southern Wales. It’s a world-class track that has hosted a slew of high-profile events, including the 1995 Walker Cup. That was the year that Gary Wolstenholme, the English amateur, beat a young Tiger Woods, even though Woods was hitting driver-wedge into some of the downwind par 5s.

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Since 1995, almost 100 yards have been added to the 12th hole, which now plays 575 yards from the back tees. So the story goes, Tiger made an albatross on the 507-yard 17th hole during one of the practice rounds.

Rumored to be a possible venue for an upcoming British Open, this is Royal Porthcawl’s clubhouse, which looks out to the rolling waves of Rest Bay:

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A day of golf and surf is an option if you bring a longboard and a thick wetsuit. The men’s locker room is a scenic spot to change into your golf shoes:

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Here’s the 374-yard first hole:

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Through October, you’ll pay $146 during the week, $178 on weekends. Pay $213 to play all day during the week, $260 on weekends.  (Weekday rates include lunch.) Here’s a link to the rates page of Porthcawl’s website.

This is a view from behind the third green:

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The big structure you see in the distance is Rest Home, which is actually a rest home. If Porthcawl is to ever get a British Open, according to some locals, Rest Home might be bought and converted into a hotel.

There are a lot of bunkers protecting par at Porthcawl. The kind of bunkers that might as well be played as water hazards because they’re so deep they’re at least a one-stroke penalty. This is a shot of the 122-yard seventh hole:

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A few holes later, at the 184-yard 11th, I came across an example of just how mean the bunkers can be:

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It took some poor maintenance guy another three Toros to get out. It took one of my playing partners three strokes to get out of one of the neighboring bunkers. 

After the round there was a buzz around the Porthcawl clubhouse: Ian Botham was there. To be honest, my reaction was, Who is Ian Botham?

“The Babe Ruth of cricket,” someone said.

I grabbed my camera and notebook and tracked him down:

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It’s actually Sir Ian Botham--(nickname is “Beefy”) and here’s a link to his Wikipedia page. I think “Babe Ruth of cricket” is all you need to know. I guess he was legendary at pitching and catching, but in cricket terms:

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Botham, 54, is now an avid golfer. He’s a member at Archerfield Links in Scotland, Sunningdale and Darlington in England. He told me Alistair Mackenzie designed Darlington, “But on a few holes, we’re not sure what the old bloke was thinking.”

Botham says he enjoys Porthcawl and plays to an 8-handicap, so we had that in common. It turns out, regrettably, but based on an old prom picture, that Botham and I also both went with a mullet at one point.

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Oh, the “fun” of Facebook. What was I Thinking???

Botham was skipping the England/Slovenia soccer game that afternoon. (Botham actually had a brief run as a “footballer” for a few years.) Botham ripped the professional soccer players. He thinks they’re soft and that the players get paid too much. “When they’re asked to play for their country, they have no bottle.” I assume that means no heart. (We’d find out a few days later, when England took it in the shin guards against Germany, that Botham was right.) 

Botham is good friends with Ian Woosnam and shares a similar reputation: They both party as hard as they played, but you have to give Botham a lot of credit, he has used his fame to raise more than $45 million for charity.

After the round I spoke to the club secretary about another tee time at Royal Porthcawl for the following day, which meant I had to tweak my itinerary, but I knew I had to get another crack at this course before I left the country. Some of my favorite courses in Scotland and Ireland are Tralee, Lahinch, Dornoch and Turnberry. I’d put Porthcawl in that company. 

Before I left I had a few more pints in the men’s lounge, which also has a great view of Rest Bay, and the walls were dripping with golf lore:

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After another day of perfect weather (70 degrees and a slight breeze), I was wondering if I could rent a room at Rest Home. 

--Matty G.


(Photographs of Woods/Wolstenholme and Botham in action are courtesy of Getty Images. The picture of me at the prom is by some guy who should be shot.)

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News & Tours

Isn't the Ryder Cup supposed to be friendly?

Colin Montgomerie's captaincy of the European Ryder Cup team encountered more turbulence over the weekend, when its last captain, Nick Faldo, revealed that his attempts to sit down and talk with Montgomerie have been for naught.

"I didn't want just to make my views known to him through the media," Faldo said at the BMW International Open in Munich, Germany, where he missed the cut. "So I wrote to Monty three weeks ago suggesting we meet up for a chat, but I have not had a reply. I don't think I need say any more than that. It says it all."

Montgomerie also was playing in Munich and made the cut. When asked about meeting with Faldo, he replied, "I think Nick missed out here (the cut) so I don't know what he is doing."

Of course, the cynic might ask what insights Faldo could possibly impart from a former captain's viewpoint given the drubbing his team took, 16 1/2-11 1/2, in 2008.

The larger issue is Montgomerie, who continues to make headlines beyond the simple promotion of the Ryder Cup. Last month was his warning to potential team members that they'd better play the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles in Scotland in August, despite a conflict for European players who play the PGA Tour: The Barclays, the first event in the FedEx Cup playoffs.

Say this for him, notwithstanding the ongoing contentiousness, there's never a dull moment.

UPDATE: Montgomerie said on Sunday that he does intend to meet with Faldo, "hopefully the next time we're together."

-- John Strege

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Courses & Travel

A Postcard From Wales, Day 2

I’m having quite the week in Wales. This country is full of nice people, I’ve had plenty of decent meals and there are an endless number of pubs with personality. (One pub I went to is haunted.) I’ve come across some persnickety sheep and you'd love the affordable links golf. (One has a history of landmines.)

My first night in Swansea I stayed at Morgans, the small city’s only five-star hotel, which is located near the Mumbles and Gower coastline:

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Swansea was home of Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) who wasn’t a golfer, but he was a famous Welsh poet. 

For the first round of two on Tuesday, I played Southerndown Golf Club:

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Established in 1905, when I arrived at Southerndown I met Alan Hughes, the club's chief executive. Among other tidbits of info Hughes dealt me as quick as cards, Hughes passed on a history of the Duncan Putter, which is an annual amateur tournament played at his club. Willie Park Jr., and Harry Colt have both been involved in the design of Southerndown. Henry Cotton, who won three British Opens (1934, ‘37 and ‘48), once remarked about the club's first hole: “Bracken to the left, bracken to the right, and a fairway rising up to the sky--the first at Southerndown is one of the most difficult opening holes in golf.”

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It plays 367 yards and Hughes said Cotton wanted to make it a par 5.

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I love the fact that the sheep still “own” Southerndown. Once, a very long time ago, the land that is now Southerndown was deemed infertile, so the rights were turned over to the “commoners.” And one of the commoner's rights, to this day, is to be able to graze their sheep on this land. A few local farmers still take advantage of their rights and the club still has to pay them a few thousand pounds every year for what's considered a, “disturbance fee.” That covers the golfers disturbance of the sheep. Some of them look at you like you're a disturbance, especially the ones with a limp. (I assume they've stood in front of a topped shot, in which case, they’ve earned the benefits of a small fee.) This pretentious bunch of sweaters only has one line of defense, which is to littler the links with their droppings, so expect a mess. 

That being said, you'll spend more time appreciating the views at Southerndown than you will looking down at the droppings, and the golf course is a lot of fun:

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After golf I caught some soccer and a massive lunch at the Pelican, which is at the base of the slope leading up to Southerndown:

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I’m not saying you eat healthy in Wales, but with the amount of walking you do, you'll burn plenty of calories to eat and drink as you please. The portions at the Pelican are generous, so order accordingly:

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After lunch I picked up an afternoon round at Pyle and Kenfig. Locals call it P&K. It's also a Harry Colt original (1922), but Philip Mackenzie Ross added some holes in the late 1940s. This is one of my favorite holes of the trip so far, P&K's 11th:

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It plays 509 yards, doglegs to the left and there are twin pot bunkers 60-yards from the front of the green.

Buckle up before the back nine of P&K--it’s a bumpy ride with lots of sharp twists and turns. It’s also where they once discovered an active landmine (no one was injured), so I stayed light in my Adidas as I looked for lots of lost balls.

I met a few more kids along the way. They have a nine-hole junior academy course at P&K and roughly 50 junior members (ages 5 to 17). Wales is having a similar problem than we are in the States--keeping kids attracted to the game of golf. (More thoughts on this in a future blog about high school golf.) 

This is (from left): Tom Beadle, 15, Cameron Morris, 12, (who they call “Scotty Cameron”), George Beadle, 12, Tom Furneux, 14, and Brad Young, 15:

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That’s George Beadle’s bag, which is just about as big as he is. These guys all used trolleys (pull carts) and they pay 100 pounds per year for unlimited golf. Only one of their dad’s is a member of P&K and their favorite players are Sergio, Phil and Paddy.

Dylan Williams, the pro at P&K (and a guy you should get to know if you're planning a golf trip to Wales), treated me to a post-round visit to the Jolly Sailor, “The oldest Pub in Porthcawl,” where we watched Argentina beat Greece. (How good is Lionel Messi?)

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Locals will tell you there is still a tunnel that runs from the Jolly Sailor, under the church across the street, all the way down to the docks. They used the tunnel to smuggle in illegal goods and the locals will also tell you the Jolly Sailor is haunted. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. I did, however, stick around for a few pints. Beer is undefeated after a round of golf. It tastes even better in a Porthcawl Pub full of locals and watching the World Cup:

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Williams started Wales Golf Vacations and he’s a well-liked local. Especially at LaRaj, the Indian food restaurant just down the street. A must if you're hungry. Williams says people drive for hours for the food at LaRaj. After dinner, I could see why. The owner was disappointed to find out I was a journalist for Golf Digest. His favorite magazine is Playboy.

You can play Southerndown for somewhere between 35 and 75 pounds, depending on the day, time and time of the year. (Right now, 75 pounds is $111.) It’s about the same price range to play P&K.

So two days into the trip and I had played three courses with almost 300 years of history. I have tiptoed through explosives, been scared of ghosts, shocked by hot wires, spiced by curry and stared down by something furry.   

More on Wales in a few days.

I leave out of London later, but not before I watch the US/Ghana game.

--Matty G.

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July 28, 2014

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