Monday, March 31, 2008
both young women were long off the tee, but inconsistently . . . I think in the end, that they were both longer than average, but not than each other . . . just depended on what hole . . . they were very accurate, if they did miss the fairway, it was in the short rough and in a good place . . . their iron shots were good, and their short games, too . . . but they just couldn't get in the hole -- in some ways, I think that's always the difference between the leaders and the also-rans, and not, necessarily, something anyone can control -- except maybe Tiger & Lorena, if you know what I mean . . .
in the scoring attempt, they bemusedly contemplated their rounds . . . "Well, at least I broke 80!" said Angela. "I don't know why I play so poorly on this course."
"I tho't you were unlucky," I said, "I've never seen so many lip-outs as today!"
"I've seen 'em all week," said Dunk, "there's something about this course, like a lack of gravity, or something. If you don't hit the hole pure, it ain't goin' in!"
"Well," I said, rubbing my chin, "it could be the Superstitions . . . "
They shrugged and left . . .
I'd love to play this course, now that I've walked it 4 times -- like to match my game against the girls' -- I love how subtle the change in elevations are from tee to green, and then in the green . . . unless you can really stand back and look at the grade, it all looks flat . . . well, #9 is a definite uphill hole and there are some severely elevated greens you'd notice, but even then you might misjudge them . . . sitting on one hole, say, #7, watching player after player miss short putts below the hole, they're clearly mis-reading it by 5 or 6 inches, even after seeing another putt on their line . . .even the 3-tiered greens have no definite levels . . . the back 9 seems definitely easier than the front 9, based on what I've seen, which is weird, because I think the back 9 is also more interesting . . . #1 & #2 heading straight towards the western edge of the Superstitions make an awe-full opening, very dramatic . . . but the series of holes beginning at #13 are really interesting, challenging, and unique . . . both Inkster Saturday and Lorena Sunday birdied #13, 14, 15 . . .
Mrs Cactus came out sunday with Mrs Science. We met up after my round, about noon, and hit the Safeway 19th hole for some free drinks (they'd already been to all the gimme tents by the 1st hole), then we walked out the front nine, backwards, to meet Mr Science walking with Annika. We waited for them at the 7th green. What a great par 5 that is . . . 90% of the players can't reach it in 2, but laying up and trying to get a wedge close is no given, because the green is so tough, sloping hard right-to-left and gently front-to-back . . . and, as I say, the undulations are so gentle & subtle, they are difficult to read . . . in the Sunday position, I didn't see anybody make a putt there more than 4 ft, and saw a bunch of missed 6 & 8 fters.
Mrs Science walked on with Mr Science & Annika, but we waited for Lorena in the last group. What a big crowd it was. Lorena was still only 1 shot in the lead, and she kinda pooched a layup well back from the arroyo, but Jee Young Lee reached the green in 2, leaving an uphill 30ft putt for eagle, but that huge swale from the middle to the front of the green fooled her and she 3 putted. . . Lorena had laid back far enough that she could hit the ball hard enough to really spin it and she was only 8 ft downhill from the hole, but she missed it on the low side like everybody else.
So we tried to follow Lorena in the crowd but it was hard for me -- brings out my agoraphobia, if you see what I mean . . . we did see her tee shot on the par 3 # 8 to the back of the green, above the back pin placement, which she was able to baby in for a birdie while Jee narrowly missed it from 2 feet further on the same line. That hole looks like nothing to me, just barely uphill & flat-looking, even tho' it's long and against the wind, but there were a lot of bogies on that hole both days, that green must be really tough.
We couldn't get into position to see her tee shot on #9, the crowd was too big and the course has a severe bottleneck for spectators there, so we were kinda blowing it off, looking instead for the freebie tents by #1, but we wound up by #9 green with just enough room to see Lorena putting -- babying an almost identical putt as #8 into the hole -- that ball didn't have enough impetus to make another half-turn when it fell into the hole . . . "well," says I, "turn out the lights, the party's over." so we left.
Took an hour to get home, and we flipped on the tv to watch the end of the tournament, just in time to see Lorena baby the putt in on #8, again . . . the video was tape-delayed an hour, so we got to see the whole back 9, which was like a tutorial in front-running . . .I have to believe if anybody had been pressing Lorena, she would have made the 4 birdie putts on the back she missed. . . as it was I was surprised Petterson got within 2, she musta been tearing it up, too . . .
I see in the AZCentral article that a young woman named Allison Fouch made 2 eagles Saturday. C'est Incroyable!
Mr Science Reports:
Another major milestone today, but one that I thought would have been much better than it was: I kept score for Annika.
On Thursday, I had been scheduled to have Annika's group, but the person who drew Lorena and has been scoring at this tournament for 15 years asked to switch, the volunteer coordinator was ordered from above to do it, and I got Lorena instead. I didn't say so before, but I was a little bit disappointed. If I had my choice at the time ... but now, I'm happy it turned out the way it did. No way would I have gotten the final group on Sunday, so this was the only way to get both of them in the same week. They moved my tee time today from 11:21 to 12:01, and I think that must have been because of what happened Thursday.
Annika is shorter and much more petite in person than she looks on TV. The swing is the same, though, very compact, rhythmic, and effortless. She says she never swings more than 60%, and I believe it. No matter what the situation, where other players might have tried to turn it up a notch, she had the same smooth tempo every time.
Annika shot 70 and finished T9, but never really got untracked. She was leaving putts short all day, and hit several irons over the greens, mainly on downwind shots.
The other player in the group was Minea "Minni" Blomqvist, of Finland. This is her third season on the LPGA Tour, and she played two years on the European Tour before that. Prior to today, her career earnings were $162,000, and in her best year, 2007, she made $87,783. Today she shot 67 playing with Annika and about 1,000 of her closest friends, not to mention TV, finished third and made $98,031. Playing the 18th in front of 20,000 or so, she was a nervous wreck. She striped her drive down the middle, drop-kicked a fairway wood to about 50 yards short of the green, then hit a pitch to 4 feet and made the birdie putt. In the scoring tent, she was smiling, crying, and seemed ready to burst.
[I saw her television interview Sunday afternoon, and I have to say she has a great TV presence . . . very endearing and personable - Cactus]
Lorena started with a 1-shot lead, and was even par through 7 (2 birdies 2 bogies), but then birdied 8, 9, 13,14,15 and 18 to shoot 66 today, -22 for a Tournament record, and win by 7. Angela Stanford, who shot 62 on Thursday, had 74 today and finished T4. Brittany Lang had 67 and finished T6. Juli Inkster shot 65, T15. Good comeback. Shanshan shot another 72, T39 and made $7,113.
I watched Natalie tee off on 1 today, and as she walked onto the tee, when the applause subsided, I told her "Be careful reaching into your golf bag today". She turned and laughed.
As Lorena was pulling away from the field, and Minni pulled away from Annika, it occurred to me that I was watching the changing of the guard. Annika will still be competitive, but I don't think she'll be #1 again. When Lorena is done, it will be Shanshan and Minni's cohort who will take over. Still, I thought, I will put Annika's ball in the center of my ball rack, and clear out the space around it. She has been my favorite golfer since the 1995 US Open, her first LPGA Tour win.
But, she didn't give me a ball. Shanshan didn't give me a ball either, but she's a rookie, probably has no sponsors, and has to buy her own balls out of that $7,113 of career earnings. When Annika left the scoring tent it was my biggest disappointment in all the years volunteering on the PGA and LPGA Tours. When one of your heroes doesn't live up to what you think they should be ... not quite "Say it ain't so, Joe", but you expect the best player to have the most class.
Minni's ball will have a place of honor in my ball rack. She signed it "Kiitosy", Finnish for "thank you". Today was truly a coming of age for her.
[I got one ball from Alena Sharp Saturday, during the round, when she was finished with it. It wasn't signed. I don't care. I don't collect them. I don't expect them . . . I gave it to a little girl. Inkster's caddy gave me one also, on 18, just like last year, not signed. I was gonna keep it and play with it, like last year, but Mrs Cactus wants it -- she thinks it will be fun to play with the same ball as a pro, and she's right! If I had gotten a ball from Angela or Dunk Sunday, I just would have given it to Mrs Cactus, too . . . ]
Saturday, March 29, 2008
1) on one of the par 5s on the front 9, Alena had a valve cover that interfered with her stroke, she felt -- inkster agreed, so we called it in . . . but the official didn't agree, so she just had to chip over it
2) Inkster's drive on #14 drifted right, off of the grass, right of the cart path, but just short of the giant bushy barranca . . . so she wanted a drop -- her stance was on the cart path, but to go right would put her into the barranca, and the official agreed she could go left instead, back onto the grass. big difference.
She hit a high soft half wedge a foot from the pin for a kick-in birdie from fluffy rough, instead of some sort of gravelly hardpan. Great shot.
Inkster was on an amazing roll at that point. On the par5 #13 she'd flared her second off the grass there over the cart path onto the rocky desert . .. I tho't she'd need a drop, but she cautiously removed grapefruit sized impediments for a few minutes then picked the ball clean. It only went halfway to the green, in the rough, on a down hill lie --
oddly enough, when I was watching Ochoa on TV later, on that same hole, she wound up in the same exact place, in 2 shots. She tried a flop-shot that landed on the edge of the green, came up 10 ft short, missed the birdie. Nae lassie, that's noot the way to play it from the long rough with a downhill lie -- Inkster played a very scottish bump-and-run that had an in-the-hole look of it all the way . . . . for birdie . . . there was less than 30 of us around that green but we were all hootin' and hollerin after that one.
So then Inkster had the thingy on #14, another birdie, then, on #15 she had a standard great hole: middle of the fairway, high wedge close to the hole, kickin-birdie. The small crowd following Inkster had a buzz now!
on #16 Inkster didn't have a good look at the green (from the right side of the fairway) from which the fairway falls away hard, on a slant, as the green slants away from the fairway in a slicey-sort of way, so that it just looks *tiny*, but she bravely stuck it just on the right side of the green, pin high, leaving an uphill putt -- just like she meant to do it . . . 8^D . . . but she narrowly missed the birdie on the low side.
Meanwhile, "Sharpie" had hit her ball courageously over the trash (or it might have just been a pull) into the short rough, so she had a great look at the green, but she pulled her 2nd shot too onto the back fringe. She drained that little texas wedge tho' for a birdie . . . it seemed like every hole on the back 9, except 18, one or the other birdied. Very Exciting.
Inkster missed two more makeable birdies on 17 & 18, which is the way the rest of her round went too, except for that magical interlude. Happens to us all, doedn't it?
Mr Science Reports:
There must be some mysterious technique to predicting the number of players to make the cut, because I got a different starting time and a different group today than I expected:
Heather Young and Shanshan Feng.
Shanshan says "My Chinese name is Shanshan, but you can call me Jennie". We were able to chat a little, because these two played fast enough to be waiting for most of their shots, as opposed to the first two days where we were usually behind, and even were "on the clock" for a couple of holes yesterday. Shanshan is 18, from China, a rookie on the LPGA Tour, and living in Orlando now. I asked her why she chose Jennie for her American name, and she said just because it was easy.
In 2007, as an amateur, tied for ninth at the LPGA Final Qualifying Tournament to earn exempt status for the 2008 LPGA season; turned professional immediately following the final round. Feng enjoyed a well-decorated amateur career that included nine wins in China. She won the China Youth Championship and the China Youth Open in 2004. She was a three-time winner of the China Amateur Tournament (2004-06). Feng was also the 2006 China Women’s Amateur Open Champion. She was a member of the 2006 All-China Championship Team and also earned medalist honors at the event. She was named Golfweek’s Top Chinese Amateur in 2007 after winning four tournaments on the International Junior Golf Tour (IJGT) in 2007. Feng also qualified for the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open.
This is her 2nd LPGA tournament, and will be her first payday. She struggled on the front 9, but finished with birdies on 17 and 18 to shoot even par (after we discussed some of the nuances of putting in the shadow of Superstition Mountain :)
Shanshan, if you're reading this, I offer this free advice, from least important to most:
Use your Chinese name. People who like you will want to learn it, and many
people will like you. When you win tournaments, everyone will learn
Take pride in your status as a Professional
Golfer. Lorena said in an interview that she spent 3 1/2 hours a day in
the off season working on her chipping. She was already the best in the
world, but she felt she could improve enough to spend that much time on one
little thing. Plus two hours at the gym, and a few hours on putting
and full shots. When the best in the world works that hard, and you want
to beat her, you have to work that hard, too.
Most important, have
fun. The next few years of your life are for fun. Make sure you keep
your card, but don't become a zombie. You will have many years to play
Professional golf, and while your job will always be important, it will
often not be the most important thing in your life.
Heather shot 70 and was on the verge of being listed on the leaderboard for a while. On 14, after she passed them walking on the cart path, her metal spikes clicking and clacking, one of the patrons commented to his buddy "I'm surprised they let them wear metal spikes anymore". My thought was "And how would you like to be the one to tell a woman what shoes she can wear?" . . . 8^D. . .
Heather's caddy, Jeff, was a character. As we walked off the 10th tee, he told me "You know, the scorer traditionally buys drinks for the caddies after the round". I said, "Yeah, meet me in the clubhouse after. And if I'm late, go ahead and start a tab for me." . . . 8^D. . .
The most colorful events were unrelated to my group today. When I arrived at the course I went to the 9th green to pass the time before my tee time, and Cactus Dave's group was just arriving. Once again, Dave was scoring for his favorite, Juli Inkster. He said she didn't recognize him from last year (thankfully - I guess she doesn't read his blog either) . . . 8^D . . .
Two groups later, Natalie Gulbis came through. She finished and was waiting at the exit, within a few feet of me, for Lorie Kane to putt out. The caddy was fetching a bottle of water from the bag, but it had fallen down too far into the sleeve that ran the length of the bag, and his hand wouldn't fit. Natalie reached in up to her elbow, and couldn't get the water out, either. Then, bent over at the bag, she announced that her hand was stuck. The caddy opened up a zipper on the bag, and tried to push it out from inside, to no avail. Then he asked the crowd "Someone call 911". Lorie came over and helped, Natalie eventually was freed, and disaster averted. . . 8^D . . .
Friday, March 28, 2008
Sherri had shot 66 yesterday, and today our guest observer was the club pro from her home course when she was in college at Texas, who is now selling real estate in Mesa. She didn't recognize him until he said his name, and then gave him a big hug, and proceeded to shoot 77 today. She made the cut, though. She seemed unsure of her club selection on a lot of shots, and hit a lot of them right, even off the tee. As if she was not committed to the shot, and tried to steer it.
Brittany had 70 today, to go with 71 yesterday, and made the cut. Na On shot 71 today, but with 74 yesterday she missed the cut by a stroke. She played her last 7 holes in 2 over par, and missed a short birdie putt on the last par 5. I guess she was just Na On enough greens in regulation.
But it wasn't a dream. I spent the afternoon with Juli Inkster, Lorena Ochoa, and Ai Miyazato.
Lorena was the star. She shot 65 with two totally unnecessary bogeys: gap wedge from 100 yards into the back bunker, and a 3-jack from 15 feet, uphill. She was making putts from everywhere, including one from off the green for birdie on the first hole. 9 birdies in all, two of them missed eagle putts. She's in 2nd place, 3 behind Angela Stanford, who shot a career-best and course record 62.
Q. Do you have a 62 in you?LORENA OCHOA: Yes, yes.
Lorena has the oddest swing move I've ever seen. I never noticed it on TV, but it was startlingly obvious from 10 feet away in person. At the start of the downswing, a violent twisting and turning of her head, chin going out and toward the target. Don't try it, you could get seriously hurt. I asked her about it after the round, and she said "it's just something I do". "Unconscious?" "Yes".
So, if she shoots 81 tomorrow and misses the cut, it will be my fault.
Juli had a tough day, missing putts an inch or two outside the hole every time, with good speed. She had 74. Ai shot even par 72, 34 on the back 9 with a birdie on 18. (Say that out loud, and see if anyone believes you.)
Juli spoke to me twice: "Nice to meet you" and "Thanks for coming out with us". Didn't give me a ball.
The Golfing Queen, whom I have taken to calling "Lorena", has won 5 tournaments this year and dropped her handicap from 45 to 38. She was 11 under par, leading the Club Championship on the 18th tee yesterday (the GPS system in the golf carts also includes scoring capability, and for a tournament, a leader board.) She hit two into the arroyo and took a 10, finishing in 3rd place. I told her about Lorena Ochoa's experience at the 2005 Safeway tournament, where she had a 4-shot lead with 3 to play, and lost to Annika in a playoff. She was still inconsolable until I gave her the Lorena Ochoa autographed golf ball, which sits now in a place of honor on her desk.
The group in front of us was Laura Davies, Annika, and a rookie from Japan named Momoko Ueda. How would you like to be a rookie playing in that group? She shot 75.
Annika and Paula are T11 at -3, Natalie and Laura are T33 at -1.
The field includes sisters Danielle (80) and Dina (72) Ammaccapane.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
This is the 9-hole version of Desert Sands. Not quite, but not enough to get a different rating. Flat, no sand traps, crowing roosters, only one set of tees (at which the Golfing Queen was not amused) but at least the greens were not all identical. There were goats, sheep, and a pony across the street. Good value, $10 to walk and $5 replay. We chose not to replay, though, 9 holes was enough. Pace of play was very slow, even though there were no foursomes in sight. I watched a 130-year old man take 5 practice swings for a 20-yard chip and then flub it.
The only reason to play here is if you have an insane desire to play every golf course in the valley.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
When we (Me, Mrs. Cactus, and my Sister) played in March, there was some weird thermal that caused the temperature to stay in the 30s instead of rising up to the low 60s as forecast. Bless those girls, they put on the bulldog, and said "Let's Play" -- I wouldn't have been tooooo disappointed to put it off til a warmer day.
Being so cold, I played the white tees at 6500 yds -- I don't know how hot it would have to get before I'd tee it up from 8000 yds -- with my 4 layers of clothing I didn't feel like I could hardly swing, but the ball flew well. When I was telling Mr Science about it he said, "Maybe you should wear clothes to restrict your swing all the time!" . . . 8^D . . . I was averaging 50 yds more than normal, even so . . . when I could get a downhill, downwind tee shot I mighta hit some 350 (with a little bit of roll): out of the 4 par 5s, I reached one with a 3 wood after a so-so drive; I came up short 20 yds on another with my 3wood with 2 good shots -- that one was 610 yds; I went over the other 2 hitting 7 woods -- I mean d-a-a-a-a-n-g!
The par 3s all seem to be redan style of some reduced sort, this picture of my sister hitting to one shows that, and the snow on the mountains.
I didn't hit a single par3 green, pulled all 4 tee shots left -- then couldn't get up and down from the desert. I figgered that was due to the cold, mostly, robbing me of my "feel", if you know what I mean . . .
There was nothing wrong with those greens tho' they were as hard and smooth as a pool table . . . I didn't make anything all day, but Mrs Cactus was en fuego, making at least 4 from over 10 feet, including 1 from 25 ft, and the ones she missed were kick-ins, aside from her 3putts . . . 8^) . . .
I have entered this course into my Jack Nicklaus 6 PC game, and was impressed all over again how W-i-d-e those fairways are . . . they have a ton of undulation in places, but they're so long that they look flat, sometimes . . . the greens are large but not huge.
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Mr Science Reports:
This one is diagonally across the street from Desert Sands, but it might as well be on another planet. Instead of trailer parks, this course is amid a retirement community of small, but nicely kept homes and condos. There are sand traps and water hazards in play, only 2 par 4's under 285 yards, contoured fairways, and elevation changes. I rate it a 2, it's not as good as Mountain Shadows, but our only complaint was that the fairways were a little shaggy, which cost the Golfing Queen precious yardage on many shots. I can imagine myself at 80 living in a place like this, driving my golf cart around the streets, and playing 9 holes every day.
I had the best 9-hole score of my life, 2 under par 29, on the front 9. Two birdies, 4 GIR, 11 putts. My only explanation is a warp in the space-time continuum which caused Stewart Cink to hit some shots that I was supposed to hit today, and vice verse. (To save future readers the research, I relate here that Stewart was 7 under par on the third tee in the final round of the PODS championship today, with a 4-shot lead. Thanks to a birdie on 17, he ended up tied with 5 other guys for 2nd place, two behind Sean O'Hair, who bogied 18.)
The worm hole closed on 10 though, and I made double bogey. I added another on 14, and two bogies, and the balance of the universe was restored.
The designer, who wisely remains anonymous, has taken a perfectly flat piece of land and created ... a perfectly flat golf course. Except for the tees and greens, no more than a few tablespoons of dirt has been moved from its natural position. It is easily the most uninspired design I have ever experienced. There is one dogleg, and the other 17 holes play dead straight. There is one water hazard ... water feature ? ... treatment plant of some sort, which is not really in play, being well to the right and short of a 117-yard hole, but was nevertheless filled with golf balls. The perfectly round, uniformly small greens have been meticulously constructed, the front and both sides perfectly level with the fairway, and the back middle raised precisely 42". Except for 15, where the right side is up a little, and 17, where the left side is up a little. It must be noted that there are three holes with a small tree in the middle of the fairway (one of my favorite design elements - NOT), but none of them are in play.
Par is 65, with a par 5 (unusual for an executive course) that stretches to 449 yards from the tips. But, don't let the par fool you. 7 of the 9 par 4's are shorter than two of the par 3's in last year's US Open, including a 227-yarder. Even on the tees I play from, I have played longer par 3's, and I remember one of them that was uphill.
Despite the name, there is nary a bunker on this golf course. It would be misleading to call it defenseless, though. The greens are very small, and contoured (even if identically contoured). I had a 3-putt from 3 feet (a downhill, sidehill first putt lipped out on the high side and ended up 5 feet below the hole - I thought of Apollo 11, where they used the moon's gravitational field to slingshot themselves back to earth), and the Golfing Queen (who won her 4th tournament of the year last week and leads the money list at Sanctuary with $120 - I'm calling her Lorena now) putted nearly off the green from above the hole on one occasion. They were not especially fast, but smooth and true, just hard to find. I hit only 6 in regulation, missing at least once with each of my 4 wedges.
While putting on 15, I searched the scorecard for a local rule regarding roosters crowing during one's backswing, but to no avail. There is one for the desert, though: "Please take lateral drop from desert areas. No Penalty." I'm proud to say I did not invoke that one today. Not that I couldn't have, if I had felt inclined to.
In praise of it, I will say that the price is right, $25 to walk on a Saturday morning in peak season (I think you get about 1.64 holes at Troon North for that price) and the overseed was complete, even including the rough. It is in nice shape, and quite playable: A solid 4.
Every once in a while, you get a glimpse through the trailers of Superstition Mountain, or another interestingly-shaped peak (reminiscent of Sedona) in the distance. I thought that if I only had all the money I've spent in my lifetime on cigarettes, booze, and gambling, I could probably buy this place and turn it into something beautiful. Or, I remembered the TV commercial of long ago, featuring an Indian Chief with a teardrop falling down his face, contemplating what the White Man had done to the land of his ancestors.