The Local Knowlege

Books

Was golf "back in the day" better than it is now?

GolfDigest.com regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:


Men In Green
loop-men-in-green-book-300.jpgBy Michael Bamberger, Simon & Schuster, $27, hardback, 260 pages

When a book's premise matches a reader's present state of mind, that's a problem-free read. When the book doesn't quite take you on the journey you expected, that's problematic. That's where I was with Men in Green, acclaimed Sports Illustrated writer Michael Bamberger's new book. I felt closely aligned with the subject matter. The author is at that middle-age stage as I am, when the nostalgia and charm of events and eras from the past can be overwhelming and the players and moments from today just don't seem to measure up. The past, however, creates issues and questions that must be answered. In Men in Green, Bamberger talks with various golf figures about questions such as: What do you remember about the old days? Does it match up with what I remember? Were you happier then or would you have wanted to have done what you did in today's environment? Was golf better back in the day?

To help answer his questions, Bamberger did some pondering with the help of Living Legends and Secret Legends, nine names of each group he came up with as he wondered about these concerns. The Living Legends were all former players, while the Secret Legends was a hodgepodge ranging from a writer to caddies to golf's grand old man, Sandy Tatum, a former USGA president, NCAA champion and Tom Watson comrade. Watson is among Bamberger's Living Legends, which include Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Mickey Wright, Curtis Strange, Fred Couples, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, and Ken Venturi, who passed away in May 2013 but who did talk with the author for the book.

Related: Catch up on other Golf Digest book reviews

When Bamberger created his list, it was fall 2012. He mapped out where his 18 legends lived and saw they were spread around the country. Going on a Grand Tour that's more upbeat than George Jones', Bamberger is accompanied by Mike Donald, the tour player who was Hale Irwin's vanquished playoff foe from the 1990 U.S. Open. The stories the subjects tell bring golf from the era of late 1950s to the 1980s back in full vigor, sprinkled with some flowery language from the unexpected (Arnie saying the F-word) that proved more humanizing than shocking.

If you're familiar with golf of the last 50-plus years, the stories, the names and the events will entertain and enthrall. I felt, however, there was a lack of answering the central question surrounding if golf was better then than now. The mini-visits with subjects were biographical but not analytical about what they felt about the time they had in the golf spotlight. Bamberger weaves some common threads though the book, such as the infamous rules dispute Venturi couldn't let go of from the 1958 Masters, in which he felt Palmer cheated the runners-up Doug Ford and Fred Hawkins. The Masters itself and its workings are another common subject throughout.

Regardless of answers left unsaid, Men in Green did not disappoint as a nostalgic visit and reminiscence with those who fashioned golf history. Was golf better back in the day? Was the thrill of adventure watching our golfing heroes better then? Yes or no, it sure seemed to me that everyone was having a helluva time.

I particularly liked: Anything written about LPGA Hall of Famer Mickey Wright, the notoriously reclusive superstar who Ben Hogan said had the best swing, male or female, he had ever seen. Considering it is so difficult to find anything fresh about her, the several nuggets Bamberger reveals are to be cherished, especially the part that includes a letter she wrote about the old days.

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The Masters

Will Tiger Woods play the Masters? Notah Begay III calls it "50/50"

With the 2015 Masters approaching closer (only 15 days!), one of the biggest storylines is Tiger Woods' health and whether or not he'll tee it up at Augusta National.

Surprise, surprise: Tiger is keeping his decision close to the vest, leaving us all to guess.

But someone who has a pretty educated guess? His buddy Notah Begay III. Tiger's former college teammate, and current Golf Channel commentator, told 120Sports it's 50-50 as to whether Tiger will tee it up on Masters Thursday.

"It's literally a 50-50 chance right now from what I can tell. But I think that's far better odds than what it was, say, three weeks ago. Three weeks ago I would've said it was 1-10 odds of him playing at Augusta."

"I think things are really settling. We've had some good discussions over the last week."

Sounds promising. It's hard to know where Tiger's game is really at. But if there's anyone who has a pulse on the state of Tiger's chipping woes and how much he has improved since we last saw him at Torrey Pines and TPC Scottsdale, it's Notah.

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Books

An inside look at one of the more remarkable player-caddie relationships in Masters history

GolfDigest.com regularly highlights golf books we find of interest to readers. This week is:


Two Roads to Augusta
loop-crenshaw-jackson-book-350.jpgBy Ben Crenshaw and Carl Jackson, with Melanie Hauser, The American Golfer, $49.95, hardback, 232 pages

One of golf's bygone traditions feels quaint, wholesome, even refreshing in today's money-laden, high-pressure world of professional golf. The practice of tour players employing local caddies at tournaments is nearly forgotten except among the most historical-minded golf observers. That system made major championships, in particular, a special week for dozens of local caddies who got to work in the presence of professional stars.

It was 1983 when Augusta National began to allow Masters participants to bring their own caddies, rather than use the clubs. Ben Crenshaw had already played in the event since 1972, and started using local caddie Carl Jackson as his annual bagman in 1976. Crenshaw decided to keep Carl on his bag, while others started bringing their own men, saying it was "a pretty easy decision for me." The merits of the move bore out when Crenshaw won the 1984 and 1995 Masters. The image of Jackson leaning over an emotional Crenshaw following his second victory, just after mentor Harvey Penick's death, has become an indelible Masters moment.

Related: Catch up on other Golf Digest book reviews

There have been only a handful of books devoted to the lives of tour caddies, but the combination bio of player and caddie found in this joint autobiography even more rare, speaking to the unique relationship of the two men. You get the full approach: their lives pre-Augusta, highlights of the Masters years, including Crenshaw's two wins, and their lives heading toward the twilight years. (Crenshaw, 63, has said that next month's Masters will be his last.)

It's a great-looking book, well illustrated and, because it's got a lot of Masters stories to tell, entertaining. It also has a background story of its own. First released in 2013, it had an initial print run of 7,500 copies that went quickly. Until recently, the book could only be ordered for several hundred dollars new, even up to $1,300. But this new second edition is being sold at $49.95 (postage paid). Search online sites, or order with Pro Tour Productions, 1800 Nueces St., Austin, TX 78701.

I particularly liked: The background on caddie life at Augusta National, the nicknames, the environment, and how the club transitioned to its 1983 policy change to allow non-club caddies at the Masters. Included in this background is Jackson's fascinating relationship as exclusive caddie to Jack Stephens, a member starting in 1962 and club chairman from 1991-1998.

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The Masters

First-world problem: Parking the corporate jet at the Masters

Traffic is always an issue at major sporting events, but maybe more so at the Masters, and we’re not even talking about Augusta’s streets.

We’re talking about its airport. Augusta Regional Airport is expecting 3,000 private aircraft landings and takeoffs during Masters week, up from 2,034 last year, Ken Hinkle, director of aviation services for the airport, told the Augusta Chronicle.

augusta regional.jpg
Augusta Regional Airport during Masters

“We’re unique because we’re like seven Super Bowls on seven days. We’re trying to manage a fluid operation for seven days,” he said.

The airport has had to change its procedures to accommodate the private planes descending on the area during the week. Pilots no longer have to reserve parking places, unlike the previous two years; they’ll be issued on a first-come first-served basis. The change was precipitated by the fact that many planes were left in parking places beyond their reservation days.

But the airport has doubled its parking capacity by closing taxiways A and E to use them for parking. It can accommodate as many as 200 planes now. It will use part of its taxiways as a stop-and-drop for dropping passengers before heading off to park elsewhere.

Suffice it to say, this qualifies as a first-world problem.

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The Masters

Bubba's pre-vacation media roundup, talks God and Waffle House

By Keely Levins

Before heading off to a well-deserved vacation with his wife, Bubba Watson made appearances on "CBS This Morning and Golf Channel's "Morning Drive". Here are the 6 most important things Bubba said during his appearances.

1. Perspective.  
While Bubba's not going to concede that he's completely grown up, he does have a bit more perspective than he did when he won two years ago. His adorable son, Caleb, is a big part of that. "[Caleb] puts life in perspective. Golf is a game. When I play bad he doesn't care, when I play great he doesn't care." He also credits his faith with helping him: "When you look at life, life can get you down real fast.... So for me, my faith and following the bible, looking at my son, I want to be as Christ-like as possible." The purpose of that? To be a role model for his son. Charlie Rose and Gayle King on CBS seem to think he's doing a good job of it, as they both told Bubba he's their role model. (Which was only slightly awkward.)

bubba and caleb.jpg

2. His Real Name. 
Sorry, folks. 'Bubba' isn't on his birth certificate. "My real name is Gerry Lester Watson Jr." The late Bubba Smith was an NFL star when Watson was born, and since Bubba was a chubby baby who resembled the football player, he was nicknamed Bubba.

3. Junior Golf. 
This year was the first year of the Drive, Chip & Putt junior competition, and Bubba went out to support the young players. He talked about how his parents had supported him when he was playing junior golf. "I think for years to come you're going to see the game of golf grow. But I think it's gonna grow more when families get involved. The game's frustrating but you're gonna be learning together. You're gonna be enjoying your time together outdoors... That's what golf was to me when I was growing up and that's what I saw out there on these kids' faces."

4. Confidence.  
Bubba showed a good balance of where to be confident on the course, and where to be humble. He was humble about the experience as a whole: "I wouldn't say [I was] dominant, because I was scared the whole time." But at the same time, he was confident during significant moments on the course, like his approach on 15. "I never once thought about the water. I thought about that shot the whole time and I knew I could pull it off." 

5. His playing partner. 
There were a few casual daggers tossed between Jordan Spieth and Bubba before the final round. Bubba recalled: "I did a news conference the same day right after him and he said he was going to call me 'Mr. Watson' and I said I'm going to be out driving him all day so he needs to call me that." Touché.

6. Waffle House. 
We all know that Bubba went to Waffle House after winning, but what did he order?  The Masters champ had two grilled cheeses and hash browns. His answer to the question, Why did he choose to dine there? "Who doesn't love Waffle house?" Again, touché. 

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News & Tours

7 surprising two-time major champions

By Alex Myers

With his second win at Augusta National, Bubba Watson vaulted over a number of one-time major winners, including big-name contemporaries like Fred Couples, Jim Furyk, and Davis Love III. Major No. 2 elevates the lefty to another level in any historical discussion about golf, but it also has us wondering where he fits in on that list. Thirty-five players now have exactly two majors. Here's a look at some of the most surprising of the bunch.

Related: The winners and losers from the 2014 Masters

Bubba Watson: We'll start with the most recent winner. He's certainly the only two-time major champion to wield a pink driver and he probably has the most unusual swing of the bunch. "A small-town guy named Bubba has two green jackets. It's pretty wild," Watson said following his latest triumph. Perhaps, but with six wins and two majors by 35, Bubba is well on his way to achieving Hall of Fame status. The surprise element comes from his funky swing, but his prodigious talent is something that was bound to shine through -- even if he didn't win on tour until he was 31.

Andy North: Probably the poster boy for surprising two-time major winners, North won more U.S. Opens than he did regular PGA Tour events. After winning the Westchester Classic in 1977, North won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills in 1978 and then again at Oakland Hills in 1985. Then? That was it.

Angel Cabrera: El Pato because he only seems to surface in golf's biggest events. Part of that is because he's never played on the PGA Tour full time, but it's also because it's true. Cabrera only has five European Tour wins, but two of those are the 2007 U.S. Open and the 2009 Masters (majors count as wins on both the PGA and European Tours). Of course, he nearly took his name off this list at the 2013 Masters, but he lost in a playoff to Adam Scott.

John Daly: In a way, he was Bubba before Bubba. A guy with a homemade swing who could hit it a country mile, Daly shocked the golf world with his win at the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick as an alternate in the field. He stunned again at the 1995 British Open at St. Andrews, but he has only won one other event since, the 2004 Buick Invitational, leaving him stuck on five career tour wins.

blog-john-daly-british-open-0414.jpg

Johnny McDermott: Twenty-year-old Jordan Spieth impressed at the Masters, but more than a century ago, McDermott won two U.S. Opens by that age. How in the world did he not end up with more than two majors? Sadly, he had a mental breakdown at 23 and was diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia. He spent the rest of his life in and out of mental institutions.

Johnny Miller: Why is a Hall of Famer on this list? Well, if you only listened to him boast in the broadcast booth, you'd think he won at least eight majors. Miller makes this list because his two, the 1973 U.S. Open (Just a guess, you've heard him mention that one a few times) and the 1976 British Open, seem like they shouldn't have been the only ones for a guy who won 25 times and is widely regarded as one of the best ball-strikers of all time.

Related: Yep, Bubba Watson went to a Waffle House after winning the Masters

Greg Norman: Like Miller, the Shark makes this list because it's crazy to think someone that good could only win two majors. Norman won the 1986 and 1993 British Opens, but of course, he's known far more for the majors he let get away. Although, to be fair, he had a few taken away (Think: Larry Mize, Bob Tway, etc.). In 1986, Norman had the 54-hole lead in all four majors, but only closed with a victory at the British Open, and 10 years later he suffered his most painful loss when he blew a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo in the final round of the Masters. Despite all his close calls, Norman recently finished No. 2 to Tiger Woods in Golf World's ranking of the best golfers since 1980, largely on the strength of his 331 weeks atop the Official World Golf Ranking.

Overall, while Watson may seem like an unexpected two-time major winner -- even to himself -- him being stuck on two is less surprising than any of the others on this list. And at 35 and with no plans for the Masters ever moving from lefty-friendly Augusta National, there's a good chance we'll be comparing him to guys with three-plus major titles at some point.

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Instruction

How He Hit That: Bubba Watson's curveball driver dagger

By Matthew Rudy

The shot that won the Masters for Bubba Watson wasn't the four-inch tap in on the last hole. It was a 360-yard tree-skimming parabola off the 13th tee. Watson had just taken a three-shot lead over Jordan Spieth, and the creek running alongside the 13th (and in front of the green) was probably only thing that could keep Watson from a second coat fitting. 

loop-bubba13.jpg

Watson could have played it safe and stayed to the right side of the hole, but he hit his best -- and most aggressive -- tee shot of the week, dramatically cutting the dogleg and ending up 144 yards from the flag, in the middle of the fairway. Spieth would later say that when the ball came off the face of Watson's driver, it looked like was headed out of bounds 70 yards left of the hole. Watson hit a wedge safely onto the green, made par and sucked all the drama out of the back nine. He cruised to a three-shot victory. 

"The shots he sees are amazing," says Top 50 Teacher Kevin Weeks. "The two most famous ones he's hit -- the shot out of the trees in the playoff in 2012 and this tee shot -- are amazing not just because he was able to make the ball curve so much, but because he was willing to hit those shots in such high-pressure situations. But that's the way he plays golf every day. Those shots are no different than what you see from him day in and day out."


It should come as no surprise that Watson doesn't fade the ball in the way most Tour players do. "Bubba instinctively knows how to make it curve," says Weeks. "It's a face and path relationship. To make a ball fade, the face is open to the path. Most players set it up with their body and make a similar swing. Bubba does it all with his hands. He has an incredible feel for the clubface."  

Weeks says there's a method to Watson's curveballs. By playing such a pronounced fade with the driver, Watson is able to double the effective size of his target area. "When you hit it as hard as he is, you're giving yourself a 30-yard target when you aim at the edge of the right rough and let it cut instead of a 15-yard target in the middle of the fairway with a relatively straight ball," says Weeks. "It's something the average guy should be doing on every hole with his driver.  Aim to account for your predominant ball flight and give yourself more room." 

Almost as distinctive as Watson's heavily curving tee shots is his unorthodox footwork through impact. His rear foot comes off the ground, and he shuffles his feet so that he ends up standing facing the target. "It might look like he's not in balance, but the ball is gone by the time all that stuff is happening," says Weeks. "Before that, his swing looks a lot like Jack Nicklaus' in his prime, but from the other side of the ball. He makes a huge turn and has those high hands with a lot of wrist cock. He's a tall guy with long arms, and he has a long, arcing swing. His hand action is wonderful -- like a wrist shot in hockey. He has a ton of club head speed, but he also hits it in the center of the face every time. You can have lots of speed, but it only translates into distance if you're hitting it flush."

Watson found his swing -- and his strategy -- with no help from a coach. He's never had a lesson, and he doesn't work on mechanics in the classic sense. "He just goes and hits balls until he feels it," says Weeks. "He's a lot like Sam Snead. If Snead was hitting it bad, he'd go hit balls barefoot. If he was still hitting it bad, he'd go hit balls barefoot in the mud. With Bubba, most of the time he plays bad, it's mental. Something is distracting him. He wasn't distracted this week."

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News & Tours

Yep, Bubba Watson went to Waffle House just hours after winning the Masters

By Ryan Herrington

Masters victory celebrations gloriously come in all shapes and sizes.


We would have given a sleeve of Titleists to have seen the folks behind the counter when Bubba Watson and his crew rolled into this Waffle House early Monday morning, not long after somebody became just the 17th golfer to win his second green jacket.

It is reminiscent of Phil Mickelson's famous visit to the drive thru of a Augusta-area Krispy Kreme after his third win in 2010.

Two mystery questions the photo doesn't solve:

1) Was he wearing his green jacket? (Because that would have made it awesomer.)

2) Why weren't the hashbrowns on the house?


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News & Tours

The two holes that sealed the Masters' fates of Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth

By Geoff Shackelford

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth agreed. The complexion of the 2014 Masters changed at the eighth and ninth holes, when Watson's birdies and Spieth's bogey led to a four-stroke swing.

Still, anyone watching Sunday knows Spieth was still very much in the hunt until the series of events played out the 12th and 13th holes. First it was Spieth dunking his tee shot into Rae's Creek on the former. Then it was Watson laying into his drive on the 13th. These two holes were the true turning point of the final round.

loop-jordan-spieth-12th-hole.jpg

After hitting his first shot into the water on No. 12, Jordan Spieth was forced to take a drop and play his third shot from the fairway, eventually making a bogey 4. (Photo: Getty Images)


Spieth seemed annoyed that the notorious unpredictable winds were not as forecast while standing on the 12th tee, instead playing downwind. "It's supposed to be out of the left, but it's a little down," he could be overheard saying.

He reiterated his peculiar faith in forecasters following the round. "It should have been a touch into us," he noted.

An older golfer would have remembered growing up hearing Ken Venturi's annual admonitions to always hit the tee shot into the middle of the green, no matter what. Nothing good could come from playing at the far-right hole location, so the legend goes.

Spieth liked the way he hit his 9-iron at the right edge of the bunker, where caddie Michael Greller said to play it. The number to clear the water: 143 yards.‿"I guess I just got a little too aggressive over the ball, played a little bit of a fade instead of just hitting that straight one over the bunker and it caught whatever, couple‑mile‑an‑hour breeze was up there, and made a big difference. When it was in the air, I thought that it was still there."

Actually, Spieth hit a 150-yard shot to the top of the green plateau, where his Titleist peered at the putting surface, then rolled back into Rae's Creek. Watson also played a direct path to the hole off the tee but took plenty of club and appeared to be playing intentionally long.

The duo made the short walk to the 13th tee with Watson leading by two after Spieth made a strong up and down from his drop. That's when Watson pulled out his pink Ping driver.

"I knew it … when it took off … it was cutting a little too much," Watson said of the tee shot around the tributary of Rae's Creek. "I knew I hit it really hard. Obviously, when you get a roar on your tee shot, you know it's pretty good. I could start breathing again once I heard them clapping and roaring."‿‿

That's the response one gets when they hit a tee shot more than 360 yards. Bubba's remaining yardage into 510-yard 13th? Just 140 yards, which left him with a 56-degree sand wedge.‿‿

Watson went on to two-putt for birdie and expand his lead to three. If the drive wasn't enough of a dagger, the press telling Spieth afterwords that it clipped a tree came as a surprise.

"Well, that's his day, I guess," Spieth lamented.‿

And those two shots were the 2014 Masters for Bubba Watson.

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Gear & Equipment

Winner's Bag: What Bubba Watson used to win the Masters

By E. Michael Johnson

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The 14 clubs and ball Bubba Watson used to win the Masters are an interesting mix of standard-issue and highly personalized. Here’s not only what he had in the bag at Augusta National, but how it got in there.

bubba-driver-350.jpgFor starters, Watson hates changing equipment. Being the quintessential “feel player,” the 2012 Masters champ can sense the slightest differences, making adapting to new clubs challenging. In fact, Watson had used Ping’s S59 irons since 2004, getting a new set each November and working into them over the course of a couple months. Yet the irons Watson used to win the Masters was not the S59 but rather the company’s new S55 model Watson changed to at the BMW Championship last September.

Watson originally tested the clubs at his Orlando home but felt he was hooking the ball with them too much. He then had Ping’s tour reps flatten the lie angle on his irons one degree, alleviating the problem and prompting Watson to put the irons in the bag. 

"I trust my feel so when it feels right to me, I trust that we’ve done the right things," Watson told Golf World in 2013. 

As with most of Watson's clubs, the specs are far from standard. His 3-PW set is plus one half inch in length and the 3- through 5-irons have an extreme heel grind. The grips are massively oversized, too, with 10 wraps of tape on the top and 12 wraps on the bottom.

Watson's driver also is unique. In fact, it’s two drivers in one. The pink-headed Ping G25 (8.5 degrees) features the racing stripe found on Ping’s i25 driver, making Watson’s big stick one of a kind. The shaft is a True Temper Grafalloy BiMatrx, a graphite model with steel in the bottom section that he has used since 2004. Oh, and the sole has a rainbow-like finish, too. Watson’s driver had a D4 swingweight and the same number of wraps under the grip as his irons. His 4-wood is a Ping G25 with 16.5 degrees loft that is 42 inches long.

Although his wedges are standard, his putter -- a Ping Anser Milled 1 -- features a rainbow-like finish that Watson originally saw while visiting Ping a few years back. Watson liked the look and immediately wanted it. The putter in 34.5 inches long with 3 degrees loft.

Finally you can’t play without a ball. For Bubba it’s Titleist’s Pro V1x -- a model he has employed since he’s been on tour.

Driver: Ping G25 (True Temper Grafalloy BiMatrx), 8.5 degrees
4-wood: Ping G26, 16.5 degrees
Irons (3-PW): Ping S55
Wedges: Ping Tour Gorge (52, 56 degrees); Ping Tour-S TS (64 degrees)
Putter: Ping Anser Milled 1
Ball: Titleist Pro V1x


[Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images]

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