The Pornification of Golf

Think the Masters is dead? No argument here that the tournament has changed recently. But is the change really for the worse? I don’t think so…or maybe I do.

Thrash TalkOne of the most talked about aspects of the last two Masters tournaments has been the effect of the recent, dramatic architectural changes on the nature of the competition. Golf fans, like those of any sport with perhaps the exception of boxing, aren’t generally thrilled to see their champion determined in a war of attrition, stumbling over the corpses of their competition and limping across the finish line.

So it is no surprise that with the last two Masters Sundays (and perhaps the last several years’ worth of “toonaments”) featuring very few birdies and heroic charges among the eventual winners, many have concluded that the Augusta National Golf Club course has been changed for the worse. I’m not sure if there’s any merit to that argument, but I do know I’m pretty sick of hearing the whining. So for this week’s Thrash Talk, I decided to take a few vital signs on the tournament and today’s golf fan.

Turning Up My Collar to Honor a Great Champion

Sometimes the hardest thing to see is what’s before your eyes. He’s no Tiger, but golf has seen few players in history as good as Phil Mickelson.

Thrash TalkAs I read my last Thrash Talk it occured to me that maybe it would be interesting to focus on the historical standing of a player other than Tiger Woods… or Jack Nicklaus, or Arnold Palmer, or Ben Hogan. It is a common theme in all sports to view the retired generations of stars as the gold standard of excellence, their career achievements standing like monuments on the top of a hill. Monuments which remind us of the great moments, ignoring the failures along the way.

Active players, in contrast, have incomplete careers, and generally no monuments. We are far better acquainted with both their successes and their failures, often causing us to rank them below the illusory image of the flawless champ of yesteryear. Certainly this is not true of all players; anyone watching Tiger Woods, or Roger Federer, or Michael Phelps, cannot escape the historical significance of their achievements, even in young, incomplete careers. But what about Tiger’s top competition? Could Tiger’s domination lead us to perhaps miss something truly great, right under our noses?

Reid Sheftall’s “Striking it Rich” Book Review

Think you’ve got what it takes to make it on tour? You might want to consult with the doctor, first. Dr. Reid Sheftall, that is, plastic surgeon-cum-Malaysian PGA touring professional.

Striking it RichOne of the most often-touted explanations for the appeal of golf is that we play the same game, on the same courses, under the same rules, as the greatest players in the world. Is it any surprise, then, that so many of us entertain Walter Mitty-esque fantasies about turning pro? Come on, admit it, if you’ve piped a drive down the middle, followed it up with a pured iron and one putt, you’ve probably allowed yourself to wonder and fantasize, “What if…”

Truth is, most of us are about as likely to see tour action as we are to see, well, Gisele Bündchen action, but every once in a while, a real-life Walter Mitty shows up on the radar. Such is the central theme of Reid Sheftall’s Striking it Rich: Golf in the Kingdom, with Generals, Patients, and Pros. The book will prove entertaining reading for just about any golf-obsessed Sand Trap reader, and might just teach you a thing or two about the game you love most.

There are so many things both fascinating and puzzling about Striking it Rich it’s tough to know where to start. The author, Reid Sheftall, is an American-born, expatriate surgeon who, after completing his medical training in the U.S., emigrated to Cambodia where he has a thriving medical practice at the American Medical Center in Phnom Penh. In the preface, we learn that Sheftall was a talented, promising junior golfer, who left the game due to waning interest and a temper ill-suited for the game.

The Streak is Over, but the Beat(ing) Goes On

Time to drag out the “greatest ever” debate again. If there is even any debate anymore.

Thrash TalkAs I reckon most of you already know, The Streak (the latest one, anyway) is officially over. Someone beat Tiger Woods, finally, by two whole strokes, at last week’s CA Championship at Doral, ending his run of official PGA Tour victories at five. Past Tiger streaks have ignited fiery discussions over Sir Eldrick’s historical standing in golf, so to extend the Tiger theme of last week’s Thrash Talk, I’d like to give you a few additional things to chew on. Read on to get my take on the matter.

Modern Marvels

One of golf’s greatest writers hits a common nerve, and Thrash Talk talks back!

Thrash TalkIn his February 8 Globe and Mail Column, virtuoso golf writer Lorne Rubenstein makes an interesting observation about televised golf: there is very little attention paid to architecture.

While I am not sure this characterization is accurate in the literal sense – every telecast of big tournaments I can remember has at least some segment on the course, either with flyovers and commentary, or the omnipresent telestrator commentary – I would certainly agree that compared to, say, swing analysis, golf viewers are indeed starved for good content on architecture. Is there anything to be learned from this sort of thing, other than the difference between tifdwarf bermuda and zoysia? I think there is, although I suspect the expert commentators would reach different conclusions than would I.

Read on to learn what I think you’d be missing.

Kelly Tilghmangate: A Seventy-Eighth Look

Kelly Tilghman had golf on the front pages for a few days earlier this season. Check out one man’s (hopefully) unique spin on the issue.

Thrash TalkWhile I’m sure most people would be happy to have heard the last of the Kelly Tilghman Affair, after mulling the situation over for several weeks I’ve decided I would be remiss not to give it the once over in The Sand Trap‘s op/ed space. Let’s face it, January is a slow news month in golf (Tiger romps at Torrey Pines… why am I not surprised?), and this is a political issue in an election year (here in the U.S., anyway). Pass up reading this and just visit the forum if you will, but if you read on I can promise to give you a thing or two to chew on.

To briefly review, Golf Channel‘s team of Kelly Tilghman and Nick Faldo were engaged in some light-hearted repartee on the subject of Tiger’s dominance of professional golf. Faldo asked rhetorically what other players might do to possibly compete with golf’s version of a Superhero, said “gang up on him for awhile.” In the joking vein of their exchange, Tilghman suggested that other top players “lynch him in a back alley.” The racist overtones of this comment were too much for Golf Channel executives, who suspended Tilghman for two weeks, after which the anchor issued a public apology and resumed her duties as lead anchor.

Golf on Ice, 2008

With just over two months left until the first day of spring, here are a few words on my personal off-season coping skills.

Thrash TalkAt the risk of alienating those readers from tropical climates (lousy, spoiled, warm-weather wussies playing golf on 70° January days…), I thought this week’s Thrash would be a good place to give you an update on how the long, dark winter is progressing. If you’re similarly frozen out of golf, perhaps the following can give you a constructive suggestion or two on how to survive the final few months before the spring thaw.

Hopes, Dreams, Plans, and Schemes for 2008

If I can manage to keep any of these resolutions, I’ll be a better golfer in ’08.

Thrash TalkAs I sit licking those Christmas financial wounds, I’m feeling a bit philosophical about my game. What will 2008 bring? Or, maybe more importantly, what will I bring to my game in 2008? Given the season, I suppose it’s best to do this in the form of New Year’s resolutions, golf style.

Read on to see mine… the front nine, anyway.

Pros and Cons of Amateurism, Part II

Digging around in the rulebook gives us another glimpse of how our beloved game’s governing body is just a wee bit behind the times.

Thrash TalkIn the last Thrash Talk I told you how I won a thousand bucks and a vacation in a mini-golf style putting contest and turned myself into the USGA. While I knew the rule of amateur status and expected they would choose to enforce it on me, somehow I held out hope that, given the absurdity of classifying someone like me as a professional golfer, the USGA would find some way to dismiss the matter. When I was officially exiled from the amateur ranks, I set out to learn a bit more about the issue. Read on to see what I learned, and what I think it means for you and me.