Thursday, July 12, 2007

Sandbagging, cheating or remarkable golf?

I've just seen something I can't recall seeing in the generally friendly confines of club golf -- what appears to have been a blatant case of sandbagging, cheating or remarkable golf.

A buddy of mine invited me to play in a one-day member guest at his club, which shall remain nameless. I was one of three guests and, along with my buddy, our foursome competed as one of 18 teams in a modified Stableford format.

Using your handicap for net scores, pars were worth one point, birdies two points, eagles three points, bogeys and worse counted for zippo. Each green even had a second, much more difficult hole location, where point values were doubled. Of course, it all came down to legitimate handicaps and the honest accounting by each team.

At the turn, hoping to gauge our success or lack thereof, we asked one of the assistant pros what it took to win this thing? High 60s, sometimes 70 points, he told us. Our team didn't play great and we went on to finish with a total of 53 points, putting us back in the pack. Plenty of teams finished in the mid-50s, the 60s and even the low 70s.

To the astonishment of most everybody, the winning team finished with 98 points -- 19 points ahead of the second-place team's 79 points. In other words, most of the teams were bunched together, except for the winning team.

As we all watched the results get posted, the doubt set in and the eye-rolling began. This foursome of middle-aged, soft-bellied, non-athletic looking guys had almost lapped the field? Was anybody buying that? No.

The pro was helpless to do anything, unless he wanted to publicly question the integrity of the member and his guests. But everybody else let their feelings be known.
At the awards ceremony and dinner, when the names of the winning team and their winning score were announced and they made their way up for their pick from the prize table, they must have been embarrassed to be greeted by snickers, hoots and hisses. One guy in the back even did that thing that where you cough, while under your breath you're yelling, "BULL----!"
Except for the prizes, those guys got exactly what they deserved.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Upheaval at the USGA

There are all kinds of upheaval and head-ducking going on at the U.S. Golf Association.

The manure first hit the oscillator the week of the U.S. Open at Oakmont when Golf World magazine came out with a cover story headlined "Can the USGA survive Walter Driver?"

Driver, of course, is the high-powered, hard-driving Atlanta businessman who is president of the USGA. Even Driver's fans -- and he has his fans -- tout him as a "change agent," meaning nothing and nobody is safe these days at the USGA.

But the cover story, which was long, well-researched and damning, suggests that in the first 1 1/2 years of his two-year term Driver has tried to bring a corporate-style management to the USGA not used to it.

That might not be such a terrible thing, but Driver comes off as an impersonal, imperial, impervious man who has left many of the USGA staff of 300 cowering in fear. While the top dogs at the USGA earn hefty salaries and fly around in leased jets and drive leased Lexuses, the rank-and-file folks aren't paid nearly so well and they are seeing their benefits get cut.

In the past week or so, two top people have left: Tim Moraghan, the USGA's chief of agronomy, and a man who plays a major role in setting up U.S. Open courses. Many insiders believe Driver had been gunning to take down Moraghan ever since the disaster at Shinnecock in 2004.

Also gone, suddenly, is Marty Parkes, senior director of communications, and No. 4 on a USGA staff flow chart. Insiders suggest Parkes got the blame for not being able to kill the Golf World story before it ever got published.

I don't know Driver well. The longest conversation I've had with him was maybe 10 minutes long at the Open a few weeks ago. But I remember well the impression he was making on USGA staffers at the U.S. Amateur at Merion two summers ago, just as he was about to take over.
I remember him walking past me and a couple of USGA staffers one day. As he passed I could almost feel a chill. And as I looked over at the USGA staffers, they were almost shuddering.
"I'm not looking forward to the next two years," said one.