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    (Lee Smith, Action Images)

    McIlroy Voted Player Of Year

    On the heels of a season in which he won two major championships and was a catalyst in Europe’s third straight Ryder Cup victory, Rory McIlroy was announced today as the PGA Tour’s 2013-14 player of the year. In a vote of his peers, the 25-year-old Northern Irishman prevailed ahead …

    (Phil Noble, Action Images/Reuters)

    In Defense Of Phil

    Phil Mickelson lanced a boil late Sunday amid the smoking wreckage of America’s galling Ryder Cup defeat at the hands of the European team in Scotland. His stinging criticism of captain Tom Watson was, in the eyes of many, heresy. But it needed to be said. Tom Watson is a …

    After a dominant debut in the morning matches, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed were not chosen to participate in the afternoon session. (Lee Smith, Action Images)

    Sitting Rookies Could Bite Watson

    Did Tom Watson make a mistake in not sending Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed back out in the afternoon foursomes session after the rookies’ dominating four-ball victory against Ian Poulter and Stephen Gallacher? Spieth said he was “100 percent certain” he and Reed would play in the afternoon session after …

    Rookie pair Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth will dive into the deep end at Gleneagles with a match on Friday morning. (Andrew Boyers, Action Images)

    Watson Goes Bold With Rookie Pairing

    Tom Watson didn’t take the conservative route, at least not with his four-ball pairings for the first session of the Ryder Cup on Friday. The Bubba Watson-Webb Simpson, Phil Mickelson-Keegan Bradley and Rickie Fowler-Jimmy Walker pairings were as obvious as the Ryder Cup logo that’s been slapped on everything around …

    The patriotically coiffed Rickie Fowler and partner Jimmy Walker will face off with Thomas Björn and Martin Kaymer in the Ryder Cup morning matches on Friday. (Russell Cheyne, Reuters/Action Images)

    Table Set For Morning Matches

    Those last two morning matches should be something to watch. Closing out the opening ceremonies, the captains announced the lineups for Friday morning’s Four-balls. The first two seem interesting enough: Bubba Watson and Webb Simpson will take on Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson, followed by Rickie Fowler and Jimmy Walker …

    Popular Stories

      Men’s Pro

      One Door Closes And Another Opens

      GREENSBORO, NORTH CAROLINA | The leaders in the final round of the Wyndham Championship were still more than an hour from starting Sunday when Joe Ogilvie made a final bogey on the final hole of his professional golf career. The skyboxes around the 18th hole at Sedgefield Country Club weren’t full and the day’s action hadn’t yet reached a simmer when Ogilvie finished the 399th tournament of his PGA career in 77th place, several hours and several shots removed from the final-round drama. It’s how Ogilvie spent much of his 15 seasons on the Tour, another name in the long list of newspaper scores, good enough to win one tournament and more than $10 million but never quite a star. He wasn’t even the Tour’s most famous Ogilvie, that distinction falling to Geoff Ogilvy. But Ogilvie made the PGA Tour better, not just with his golf game but with his presence and personality. He has been able to look outside the ropes and see the bigger picture, offering a voice of perspective and reason that reaches beyond the often-selfish interests of the various bodies within the PGA Tour. Like anything else, the PGA Tour is only as good as its people and Ogilvie has been one of the best. As he leaves professional golf for a career in investing, it’s the people Ogilvie will miss and not necessarily the people you think. “When you say goodbye to certain guys out here and certain tournament directors, I literally may never see them again in my life. That’s the bitter part,” said Ogilvie, who graduated from Duke in 1996 and now lives in Austin, Texas. “I really enjoy coming to certain towns. I enjoy seeing the volunteer on the ninth tee box at the Sony Open every year. She’s got the (sign) thing going …

      European Rout? Not So Fast

      LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY | The restaurant was crowded and Ted Bishop, the president of the PGA of America, had time only for a few moments’ conversation as he passed Paul McGinley, captain of the Europe Ryder Cup team. “You guys have gone from underdogs to prohibitive favourites,” Bishop said. McGinley laughed. “I like the way things are shaping up,” he replied. It seems that everyone of European persuasion likes the way the Europe team is shaping up. In the early years of the modern Ryder Cup the Europe team clearly was the weaker one. Then with the emergence of Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Sandy Lyle, Nick Faldo and Ian Woosnam, the imbalance became less pronounced. By 2006, the U.S. had arguably the weakest team ever and received a nine-point drubbing in Ireland. Now, eight years on and six weeks before play starts at Gleneagles, Europe are strong favourites. The leaderboard after the first round of the PGA Championship told a remarkable European story. Of the 38 from that continent who started, 27 were on or under par with three rounds to go. There were representatives from the mainstream golfing countries in Europe such as England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Spain but also Austria, Finland and Wales. “Was I proud?” Ken Schofield, former executive director of the European Tour. “You bet I was. Very.” Twelve of Europe’s Ryder Cup contenders were under par after the first round and there were no injury scares, which was not the case among the American contenders. Matt Kuchar (bad back) and Jason Dufner (neck and shoulder) had to withdraw because of injury and this came after Dustin Johnson, one of the U.S. team’s successes at in 2012, was in voluntary suspension. Tiger Woods went round in 74-74 to miss the cut. Only 12 of the top 23 Americans survived to the weekend.

      Bourbon, Bats And A Big Horse Race

      LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY | When Denny Crum, a California native and at the time an assistant to John Wooden at UCLA, was introduced as head basketball coach of the university in this city in 1971 he referred to it as “Lewis-ville.” Corrected almost immediately, Crum’s mistake was shrugged off by the local citizenry as a minor indiscretion, and he now is better remembered for the two NCAA championships his teams won. Named after King Louis XVI (that’s 16 on your scorecard), Louisville has no specific pronunciation but is called “Loouhvull,” “Looeevil,” and by the home folk, “Luhvull.” Anything but Lewis-ville. It’s a town with the most famous horse race in America, a 120-foot replica of a bat used by Babe Ruth and enough bourbon to quench thirsts from Frankfort to Paducah. There’s a street honoring native son Muhammad Ali, who as a kid was known as Cassius Clay; an airport that is the site of UPS’s worldwide hub; and a Jack Nicklaus golf course named after a hall of the slain in Norse mythology, Valhalla. According to Wikipedia, Louisville is Kentucky’s only “first-class city,” a comment which if heard around town might earn the speaker a whap on the head with a bottle of Early Times or Maker’s Mark and a trip to Valhalla — the hall of the slain, not the golf club. Someone from Louisville composed a “bucket list” of must-see attractions in the area, not including the high-power wires that cross Valhalla. (They were there before the course.) A critic, having scoured the suggestions, responded with a comment on Twitter.

      The Great Ones Find A Way

      LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY | The only question now about Rory McIlroy is how far he goes and, if we’re fortunate, we have another 20 years or so to find out. As dominating as his first two major championship victories were and as reconfirming as his Open Championship win was last month at Hoylake, McIlroy’s victory Sunday at the PGA Championship at Valhalla was the most impressive of them all. It was a muddy masterpiece. McIlroy won his first three majors on sheer talent. He won this one on guts and toughness too, by turning a potentially lost Sunday into an unforgettable victory that positively glowed through the rain, slop and darkness that framed the best afternoon of golf in what seems like ages. “It is the most satisfying, to win in this fashion, in this style,” McIlroy said, his big silver trophy sitting at his right hand. “It means I know I can do it. I can mix it up with the best players in the game and come out on top.” If all the talk about a McIlroy era seemed a tad premature beforehand, it doesn’t any more. This is golden age stuff. “It’s beginning to look a little Tigeresque,” Graeme McDowell said. “As I said at the Open, I didn’t think we were going to see the new Tiger era … just yet. I’m not eating my words but I’m certainly starting to chew on them.” Ernie Els spent a career collecting four major championships. McIlroy has that many already and until May he wasn’t old enough to legally rent a car in this country. McIlroy will go to Augusta in April chasing a third major championship victory in a row and the career Grand Slam while everyone else will be chasing him.

      Amid The Drama, A Golf Tournament Broke Out

      AKRON, OHIO | But for the distractions, we’d be calling the WGCBridgestone Invitational one of the best events in recent memory. You had everything: Rory, Rose, Rickie, Adam and Sergio, the Fab Five who lit up Liverpool, reunited at Firestone Country Club for a show that had fans squealing in delight and had PGA Championship officials salivating over what their upcoming gig in Louisville might produce. You had a two-man showdown on Sunday between Sergio García and Rory McIlroy, a repeat in reverse of the Open Championship where García was chasing McIlroy but falling a few shots short. Here it was McIlroy doing the chasing, catching, passing and winning, blistering the lengthy Firestone layout by averaging 333 yards off the tee for the week and shooting a pair of 66s on the weekend to take his first World Golf Championships event. The only things that could have ruined this show were Tiger drama and a drug scandal. Oops. It wasn’t just that Rory’s sensational win didn’t dominate the headlines. It was far crueler than that. The Dustin Johnson story and the Tour’s schizophrenic response to it (events put into perspective by Mike Purkey in this issue) sucked all the air out of the best Friday the Tour has had in months and overshadowed one of the finest rounds of golf anyone has ever seen out of García since he was a teenager. García’s course-record-tying 61 included 11 straight one-putts, seven straight birdies, a record 27 on the back – the lowest nine of García’s career – and gave him the first lead he had held in this event, ever. And Johnson, wherever he might be, grabbed all the attention.

      Women’s Pro

      LPGA Championship Moving On

      PITTSFORD, NEW YORK | Shortly after finishing her pro-am round at the Wegmans LPGA Championship last Wednesday, Laura Davies was strolling near the clubhouse at Monroe Golf Club when spectator Debi Combs spotted her. Well past middle age and bedecked in pink, Combs rushed toward the 50-year-old Englishwoman like a tween girl to a Jonas brother. Taking her eyes off her smartphone, Davies stopped and graciously indulged Combs’ request for a photo, chatting for a few moments before continuing on her way. The encounter symbolized the love affair that has developed between the LPGA and the greater Rochester, N.Y., community for the past 38 years. But its denouement also echoed the culmination of that long-standing relationship, which occurred when the last putt dropped on Sunday. As the 1970s rock group Supertramp once sang: And I really have enjoyed my stay/ But I must be moving on Or perhaps more aptly, the LPGA is making like television’s The Jeffersons and movin’ on up. As was announced in June, the LPGA’s fourth major will become the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship in 2015. Slated for next June at Westchester Country Club, a former PGA Tour venue in suburban New York City, the event will boast a fatter purse ($3.5 million vs. this year’s $2.25 million) and figures to garner substantially more exposure thanks to a weekend TV broadcast on NBC, its location in the Gotham media market and the marketing heft of the PGA of America, with whom the LPGA has partnered to “elevate” the major.

      National Pride Runs Deep At International Crown

      OWINGS MILLS, MARYLAND | It wasn’t the Ryder Cup. There were no deafening roars; no swelling masses; no off-key singalongs or nitwits running around in full-body spandex suits. Nobody dressed up as Uncle Sam and there wasn’t a single “Get in the hole,” yelled immediately after contact. From a crowd standpoint it wasn’t even a Solheim Cup where the smaller but still excitable galleries give off the air of a Women’s World Cup final. Fans at the inaugural International Crown were healthy, respectful and appropriate, bigger in number than you might expect for a first-year event but smaller than you’d hoped for in a tournament that was supposed to determine the top nation in women’s golf. The grandstands at the first tee weren’t quite full on Thursday morning but it didn’t matter. Even if nobody had been there but LPGA staff, a few journalists and the hound dog that lives somewhere left of Caves Valley Golf Club’s first green, the players would have still been too nervous to breathe. Representing your country will do that. “On the first tee my emotions were still flooding,” said Spain’s Belén Mozo, the only member of the Spanish team never to have played in the Solheim Cup. “You can see on the tee box, I didn’t hit a good shot.” She wasn’t the only one. The LPGA didn’t orchestrate a traditional opening ceremony. There were no bands or speeches or processionals. A family-style gala dinner where sponsors ate crab cakes and garlic mashed potatoes with the players was as close to an official kickoff as they got. But officials more than made up for the lack of formality. Prior to each match on Thursday morning, the teams were introduced along with representatives from their nations’ embassies: a minister or deputy of this or that. Then, everyone stood as the respective national anthems blared over a sound system that had been playing Pharrell William’s ubiquitous song Happy just seconds earlier. Tears spilled before the first bars of each anthem could fill the crisp Maryland air.

      The Solheim’s Friendship Formula

      SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | Having been drawn together through losing consecutive Solheim Cups, the Americans have their fingers crossed that their more united approach could lead to success in next year’s event in St. Leon-Rot, Germany. The Europeans, as you would expect, are having none of it; they doubt if it will make any difference. It was in answering questions during the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Royal Birkdale on how the Americans had interrupted the Koreans’ dominance of the majors that first Stacy Lewis and then her friend, Michelle Wie, introduced the subject of the Solheim. “We kind of got our butts kicked in the last couple of matches and after that a lot of us just looked into ourselves and kind of re-evaluated what was happening,” said Wie. “I think we are more motivated as a result. We are pushing each other and I definitely feel a lot more camaraderie out there with my fellow Americans. It could work for us all round.” Let Paula Creamer take up the story. “It’s funny,” she began, “how a team event can have such an impact on an individual sport. Losing in Colorado has really played a big part in our recovery. I don’t like to lose and I’m trying to get better, both for myself and the match. The whole experience has kicked things up a notch for us.” Creamer will tell you that she was conscious of a need for the Americans to work with rather than against each other long before the losses of 2011 and 2013. She says that the need for change hit her forcibly when she studied how the other nationalities go about their golfing business.

      Fierce Winds Make Birkdale A Brute

      SOUTHPORT, ENGLAND | It’s the clinking and clanking that gives the game away, the noise that comes from flagpoles as they strain in a wind. That is when you know that a wind has gotten up. It’s the same when you walk along a harbour lined with boats at anchor. If there is a wind, the rigging will be jigging. At Royal Birkdale yesterday you didn’t need to whet your forefinger and hold it up to find out whether the wind was blowing and from which direction. It was quite musical to listen to the noise it made on the flagpoles outside the iconic clubhouse. On a day like yesterday, the sun bronzed the skin and the wind burnished it. It was an ideal day for a sail, a walk, for watching golf. But a lovely day on which to play golf? Perhaps not. “Phew!” Laura Davies said after her 73, 1-over par, a score that probably felt like 1 under. “It was hard work today. It was like a proper job.” Jessica Korda said: “It’s really hard on the greens and you’re standing over the ball and it’s ovulating and you don’t know whether to hit it or not.” Ovulating may not have been the word Korda had in mind but you know what she meant. “This is a 20-25-mph wind,” Brian Hodgkinson, Birkdale’s head professional, said as he peered out of the window of his shop and listened to the ringing of the tills. “It’s nothing like it was at the 2008 Open when it was blowing at 50 mph and play had to be stopped. It has been difficult this week, this course. The rough was wet the first two days and that made matters difficult. But the wind is nothing to what it was in 1961 when Arnold Palmer won here. That year all the tents blew down.”

      Lewis Vs. Wie: A Rivalry Without Sharp Edges

      Calling them rivals is lazy, a cliché to fit a narrative that fans want but one that doesn’t jibe with reality on the ground, or in the gym or on the patio at the Bear’s Club where Stacy Lewis and Michelle Wie hang out and talk about everything but golf. Mention that the two of them constitute the best and most compelling rivalry in golf today and they will both shake their heads and smile. “I don’t think we consider each other rivals but I do know we both want to beat each other on the course,” Lewis said during a South Carolina beach vacation before flying to Manchester, England, to defend her title at the Ricoh Women’s British Open. “That doesn’t affect our friendship. That’s why we are happy for the other person when they win.” Wie agreed. From her home in Jupiter she said, “I enjoy seeing (Stacy’s) name on the leaderboard. It definitely gives me a boost.” That’s not exactly Duke-North Carolina or Auburn-Alabama. In fact, the loudest and most genuine cheer when Wie won the U.S. Women’s Open came from the runner-up, Lewis, who was rolling putts next to the 18th green just minutes before Michelle made her final, winning par. A week later, Wie hugged Lewis after Stacy’s come-from-behind win in Arkansas. The friendship even extends online where Wie called out Lewis on Twitter in the “ice bucket challenge,” a series of video dares in which players dump buckets of ice water on their heads and goad friends to follow in kind. They tell jokes and share stories and buy each other drinks every now and again, certainly not the kind of good, hard, hate-filled rivalry sports fans yearn for: the kind where they can take sides, wear colors and hurl invectives at those in the other camp. Fans want Yankees-Red Sox, Cowboys-Giants, Arnie-Jack; they want good guys and bad guys, red shirts and recognizable logos.

      Amateur

      Golf’s Young Pups Spark Optimism

      ATLANTA, GEORGIA | Who says golf is dying? If you listen to the doomsayers, you’d think that the only people left in our game are blue bloods who tie sweaters around their necks and call each other Ducky, or gray-haired cranks yelling, “Get off my lawn.” This year’s U.S. Amateur should put an end to that myth once and for all. Of the 312 players who ventured out to Atlanta Athletic Club with small bags and big dreams, 56 of them were either still in high school or just graduated in the spring. And one, Will Thomson, still attends Barker Road Middle School in Pittsford, N.Y. He is 13, the youngest player to qualify for America’s oldest championship. He gets his braces off in October. “That’s really big,” Thomson said of his date with the orthodontist. “Not as big as the U.S. Amateur, obviously. This is really cool. But that’s going to be cool, too.” Thomson had a respectable showing, which is to say that he didn’t finish last. His 155 total beat 52 players even though he missed match play by a mile. “I wasn’t expecting everybody to be coming up and congratulating me and supporting me so much,” he said. “Some people are shooting really high numbers in high school matches so the competition out here is way better and the length and difficulty of the course is so much different. It’s a lot tougher out here.” That earnest and innocent observation sparked a hearty chuckle from all who heard it.

      Golf Work, Golf Play For Tripp Davis

      For those playing in the Porter Cup, the jaunt to the Niagara Falls Country Club in upstate New York is a golfing holiday that combines the pressures of tournament play with the pleasures of teeing it up on a classic A.W. Tillinghast track. But it is a different sort of outing for 46-year-old Tripp Davis, a onetime All-American golfer for the University of Oklahoma who has qualified for 15 USGA championships. To be sure, he goes there to compete in an event that first was staged in 1959 and counts Ben Crenshaw, Phil Mickelson and David Duval as past champions. But it also counts as a business trip for Davis, for he runs a golf course design firm and is in the midst of revamping the layout on which the Porter Cup is held. At first blush, it seems an unusual mix of work and play. But that is how Davis has been living the past 20 years. As an amateur good enough to have been medalist in one U.S. Mid- Am and quarterfinalist in two others. And as a course designer who has produced notable originals, such as the Old American Golf Club outside Dallas, and also completed acclaimed restorations of layouts such as the Engineers Country Club in Roslyn, N.Y., and Oak Tree National in Edmond, Okla., where the 2014 U.S. Senior Open recently was contested. It was as a player that Davis first got interested in golf. Born William Hurst Davis, III and nicknamed “Tripp” by his father, the youngster grew up in Atlanta. “My mother’s side of the family were all golfers,” Davis recalls. “They lived in a small town south of Atlanta and played on a nine-hole, Rotary Club course. Whenever we would visit, the uncles would take the kids to play golf to get them away from the aunts.”

      Joe Sixpack Tips A Cap To Publinks Demise

      Eight years ago, Herbie Aikens qualified for his first U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship. For a Boston-area native who still was new to competitive amateur golf, it was a Red Sox-winning-the-World-Series type of feeling. “I felt like my feet weren’t even on the ground,” he recalled. “I still think that might be the most excited I’ve ever been after a round of golf, just absolutely euphoric.” Aikens had played for his high school team in the late 1990s, but at 6-foot-6 he’d been more into basketball. After graduating he apprenticed as an electrician, moved to California for a spell and eventually launched an electrical contracting business back home. He’d kept in touch with the game but never became serious about it until he visited David Leadbetter’s Florida academy in early 2006. His trip to Washington State that summer for the Public Links was an eye-opener. Admittedly in over his head, Aikens missed the cut by a mile. But he was hooked. Since then Aikens has become a Public Links regular, qualifying the past four years while playing out of Pinehills Golf Club, a dailyfee facility in Plymouth, Mass. Advancing to the Sweet 16 at Bandon Dunes in 2011, he says, was a career highlight. Aikens, who also qualified for the U.S. Amateur and U.S. Mid-Amateur that year, dreams of one day strolling the pristine fairways of Augusta National Golf Club as a Masters competitor. By custom, a victory in the Amateur, Mid-Amateur or Public Links would earn him a drive up Magnolia Lane.

      New Life Breathed Into Trans-Miss

      TULSA, OKLAHOMA | Board president Steve Hatchett has been around the Trans-Mississippi Championship long enough to remember literally begging to get into the event as a college golfer at Wichita State, then feeling like he had finally hit the big time when he stepped to the first tee. Texas Golf Association Executive Director Rob Addington remembers watching his father beat future pro Bob Gilder, only to see future World Golf Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw edge his dad in Trans-Miss competition, loaded with future golf stars. Now the two men who love the prestigious amateur event, which just finished its 111th showcase, are banding together with others to help save it from amateur golf irrelevance, which threatened this event and has caught others. The Trans-Miss, which began in 1901, boasts a winners list that reads like a World Golf Hall of Fame roster. Jack Nicklaus is a two-time winner. Deane Beman is another former champ as is Texas amateur legend Gus Moreland, plus Tour winners Mark Brooks, Bob Estes, Bob Tway, Gary Koch and Crenshaw. Tom Watson, Johnny Miller and Payne Stewart all entered the event but never won. A big move came for the college players of the 21st century when four years ago the Trans-Miss finally reversed its ill-fated decision of the 1980s that allowed mid-amateurs only. The tournament began again to invite the top college players to complete for one of the oldest amateur trophies in American golf. “I’m in the car business, so I know all about demographics and every year our numbers kept dropping. I thought to myself, ‘Nobody knows who we are anymore,’ and this was too important to let it go,” Hatchett said.

      Brother Follows Brother Into Senior Hall

      Golf stories are rarely about the actual mechanics of golf. The good ones are about the trials of the human condition, about family, friends and relationships. That is what made getting to know Louis Lee, the newest inductee into the Senior Amateur Hall of Fame, such a treat. Louis was not a blue-blood amateur and certainly not the kind of guy who expected to be a Hall of Famer. The son of a minor league baseball player, he grew up listening to the lapping waters of the Little Red River in the sleepy town of Heber Springs, Ark., where his only ambition was to keep up with his older brother Stan. The two Lees played baseball and golf but when Stan settled on the latter, Louis put the bat and glove away as well. He followed his brother out to Red Apple Country Club, a nine-hole course with push-up greens and no junior golfer restrictions. It became the Lees’ playground. In their teens they realized they were pretty good, accomplishing enough in fact that Stan received a golf scholarship to Louisiana State. Three years later Louis followed. The brothers got to play on the college team together one year but Louis knew that Stan was and always would be the better player. After graduation, Louis even followed Stan into the insurance business, the older brother opening the Rhodes and Lee agency on Searcy Street in Heber Springs and Louis following suit with a State Farm agency on West Main.

      Travel

      Emerald Pilgrimage

      WATERVILLE, IRELAND | There are several solid circuits around the world for those who like to travel with their sticks, routes that lead golfers on tours of top-flight tracks located in specific areas and allow both on- and off-course adventures to unfold like well-structured novels. St. Andrews, Scotland, to be sure. Pinehurst, N.C., and the Sand Belt outside Melbourne, Australia, too. Another noteworthy trek takes players on a stirring loop through southwest Ireland, with stops at some of the best links layouts in the world. Like the Old Courses at Lahinch and Ballybunion, and newer tracks at Waterville, Doonbeg and Tralee. It’s a well-worn pilgrim path trod by golfers who regard visits to one of the game’s ancestral homes as religious experiences. For many of them, it is where they taste the historic links of the British Isles for the first time. Yet it is also a favorite destination for veteran voyagers, and a place they return to time and time again. Southwest Ireland was the first part of the Emerald Isle I visited as a golfer, a dozen years ago, and I fell hard for the rugged links courses that wound through dunes and along estuaries there, and the glorious sense of playing the game in its most traditional form. And I have returned to that region happily on a couple of occasions since then. I started my latest trip there with a game at Lahinch, an austere seaside links that boasts a brilliant architectural pedigree, having been tweaked through the years by Old Tom Morris, Alister MacKenzie and most recently, Martin Hawtree. It is as scenic as it is strategic, and the course also features two of my favorite golf holes.

      Laid Back In The Lowcountry

      HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. | As big a fan of Pete Dye as I am, I do not find his layouts particularly relaxing. Interesting, to be sure. Strategic and challenging, too. But the wild undulations of his greens often unnerve me, and so do his heaving fairways, which frequently send perfectly good shots into perfectly horrible positions. By his own admission, Pete likes to mess with golfers’ heads, and it takes no amount of effort to get into mine when I try to discern the proper angles I should take off his tees. But for some reason, I am completely at ease as I play my way around one of his masterpieces, the Harbour Town Golf Links on Hilton Head Island. It’s not the tiny greens on that perennial top-100 track that have led me to South Carolina, nor the devilish bunkers and well-placed water hazards that so ably help to protect par. In fact, I am having a tough day as far as scoring goes. My blood pressure, however, is at a 10-year low. I figure it must be the warmish breeze coming off Calibogue Sound, smelling faintly of salt, and the stretches of sandy soil along the borders of the golf course that calm me. Maybe it’s the sight of the live oaks lining so many of the holes here, their craggy branches draped with tawny strands of Spanish moss, and the stands of palmettos. The sound of the swaths of brown-blonde marsh grasses clattering in the wind lull me as we play the oft-photographed 18th hole, as do glimpses of ospreys scanning shallow inlets for baitfish, occasionally diving into the water to grab unsuspecting prey with their talons. And the brick red-and-white lighthouse that looms behind the green is so picturesque that it manages to take much of the fear and drama out of what is a rather daunting approach. As a result, I am not so freaked out by Pete.

      Revealing The Mayan Riviera

      PLAYA DEL CARMEN, MEXICO | The mere mention of Cancún evokes an immediate handful of images. The beach. Parties. Sunshine. Parties. Spring break. Parties. It’s not entirely inaccurate and for thousands of visitors annually, it’s why Cancún remains a hugely popular destination. But if you’re a golfer, the Cancún area probably hasn’t been high on your must-play travel list. Ah, but fly into Cancún, where the airport control tower sports a Corona beer ad, and take a right past the Walmart billboard and head down the main four-lane highway past the drive-thru Starbucks and, almost before you know it, you’re in an emerging golf destination just a few miles and a world away from the shake and sizzle of Cancún. If you like your golf trips to include warm weather, palm trees, an ocean breeze, world-class hotels that discourage spring breakers, famous-name course designers, a dose of history, unforgettable cuisine and one of the Caribbean’s coolest beach towns, then you can find it along the Riviera Maya. From Puerto Morelos near Cancún in the north to south beyond the Mayan ruins at Tulum, a stretch of more than 30 miles of Caribbean coastline, the Riviera Maya features a collection of sprawling golf and beach resorts. “What we have in Riviera Maya is very good golf and we feel we’re very good competition for Los Cabos, where there aren’t as many courses,” says Omar Velez, golf operations manager at the Riviera Maya Golf Club, a 27 hole Robert Trent Jones Jr. complex on the southern end of the Riviera. With more than a dozen golf courses sprinkled along the Yucatán Peninsula, Riviera Maya can be perfect for a buddies’ golf trip, a couples’ getaway or a family vacation. It’s less than three hours by air from many major airports in the U.S. and its popularity is mushrooming.

      Bone Valley Classic

      BOWLING GREEN, FLORIDA | Bill Coore regularly receives telephone calls from people looking to build or revamp golf courses. After all, he is one of the most sought-after architects in the game, and the courses he has created with his longtime partner Ben Crenshaw, like Sand Hills in Nebraska and Friar’s Head on Long Island, are among the best in the land. But the designer’s dance card is usually full, which means he must say no to most entreaties. So, it was not surprising that Coore graciously declined an invitation from an executive of the Minnesota-based mining giant Mosaic several years ago to visit a site in the Sunshine State from which the company had once dug phosphate rock – and where it now wanted to build a golf resort. “I said that I was really not interested in working on a Florida course,” explains Coore, no doubt fearing the land would be pancake-flat like the vast majority of the state and envisioning a plan that included lots of real estate. “But the guy on the other end of the line kept saying, ‘Please.’ So, I gave in. “The first thing I noticed when I arrived was the sandy soil,” Coore recalls. “And Ben and I love sand. Next, I saw rugged dunes and blowout bunkers stretching in all directions. It was perfect golf ground, and it neither looked nor felt at all like Florida. Then I learned there was not going to be any housing. I immediately got on the phone with Ben and told him he needed to see this place.”

      Reynolds Plantation Abounds In Options

      GREENSBORO, GEORGIA | Nestled among the tall Georgia pines, on the shores of tranquil Lake Oconee, is a golf retreat that is as beautiful to the eye and demanding of your golf game by day as it is soothing to the soul by night. Reynolds Plantation, in many ways, is the state’s best-kept secret. Located halfway between Atlanta and Augusta, Reynolds has 117 holes of signature golf by some of the world’s best-known and most highly regarded architects – Jack Nicklaus, Tom Fazio, Rees Jones, Bob Cupp and Jim Engh. There’s enough golf – and high- enough quality – to cater to just about any taste. The draw to Reynolds Plantation is golf, but it is first and foremost a real-estate play with 3,800 homeowners on property. Sales associates would love nothing more than to interest you in a homesite on which you could build a custom home. But while you’re looking at property – or if you just want a long weekend getaway – Reynolds offers plenty of amenities to short-term visitors. The 251-room Ritz-Carlton Lodge on the property was redecorated and refurbished last spring and reopened in April. The attached cottages and Presidential House also were renovated and reopened in October. The Lodge also has a 26,000-square-foot spa. And there are plenty of cottages and condos in Reynolds’ rental portfolio that can give you the feel of home-away-from-home during your visit. Reynolds Plantation was developed in the late 1980s on 90 miles of Lake Oconee shoreline and currently has 5,000 undeveloped acres. The company struggled to sell real estate during the housing slump and wound up operating under bank-appointed receivership for more than a year. MetLife, the largest U.S. life insurer, bought Reynolds Plantation in 2012 and Daniel Corp. is developing and managing the property. Once MetLife assumed ownership, the company stepped up with millions of dollars in renovations to the six golf courses, including a new clubhouse at The National.

      Gear

      New Look For TaylorMade Putters

      Last year, TaylorMade Golf released a trio of counterbalanced putters that were designed to be the most stable flat sticks the California clubmaker ever produced. The idea, of course, was to give golfers an alternative to the soon-to-be-disallowed anchored putting approach. They came in a variety of models, beginning with the Daddy Long Legs and including the Spider Blade and Spider Mallet. The reception for these clubs in the marketplace was solid. But that did not prevent company engineers from working on ways to make improvements. Among the lodes they mined for information in that regard was their staff of tour professionals. The result was new-look versions of the three offerings. Each features an enhanced color scheme that includes a black finish and white tungsten heel and toe weights designed to frame the ball better at address. In addition, the technicians added a matte-black shaft and high-polish sole. “The new tour-inspired cosmetic is visually stunning, while also delivering the ultimate in stability and performance,” says Tomo Bystedt, Taylor- Made’s director of iron, wedge and putter creation. “Each of these putters promote an extremely stable putting stroke, to help golfers deliver a consistent roll time after time.”

      SportRx Sees The Light

      Take a loop around most any golf course when the sun is shining, and it is hard not to notice how ubiquitous a part of the royal and ancient game sunglasses have become. And one place where more and more players are purchasing their shades is SportRx. Based in Southern California since its founding in 1996 by athletic-minded opticians, SportRx is an online operation specializing in creating prescription eyewear that is tailored to your sport and vision needs in an effort to improve performance and comfort. Prescription glasses are available through its website, www.sportrx.com, as are progressives and bifocals. And lenses for both can be polarized. SportRx has its own optical lab where the company employs the most up-to-date digital technology for its own line of products, including such innovation as prescription wraparounds.

      New Pumas Ooze Versatility

      The range of footwear models Puma is offering this year is intended to appeal to a broad cross-section of golfers and performance needs. Consider the Biofusion, the latest tour shoe from the brand’s Pro Collection. Company technicians say it features a “modern, clean and pure cell structure design” in the uppers that utilizes a Rovenica Plus microfiber for optimal support while remaining lightweight. The lacing system is designed to cradle the midfoot for greater stability and better fit, while a thin, TPU PowerFrame outsole boasts flexed grooves and traction elements that are intended to work with a FusionFoam midsole and integrated heel counter to be both flexible and stable. Available in four color options, the Biofusion also comes with a two-year waterproof guarantee and is the model seen most often on the feet of Puma’s staff of tour professionals.

      Oakley’s New Bag Takes It Lite

      The folks at Oakley are not kidding when they call their latest bag offering Factory Lite, for it tips the scales at a mere 2.8 pounds. That’s about half of what the average carry bag weighs, and the idea is to make it as easy and comfortable as anything else on the market. Engineers at the California company best known for its golf shoes and sunglasses were able to reduce heft in the Factory Lite in a number of areas. For example, they employed a light-yetsturdy and abrasion-proof ripstop nylon of the sort used for high altitude tents as the main material in this bag, and added legs made of a carbon fiber instead of steel or aluminum. They also ensured that the Factory Lite utilized 40 percent less zipper tape and eschewed embroidery on the outside in favor of screen-printing. And while the bag boasts somewhat smaller pockets, Oakley officials say that there are strategically located and designed to provide plenty of storage room for essentials like golf balls, gloves, towels and tees as well as the odd rain jacket.

      Arccos App Keeps Track Of Your Game

      Technological advances in golf are not limited to the metals, irons and balls that players use to hit their shots. The world of golf applications is exploding as well, and the latest example of that trend – and all it offers – comes from Arccos Golf. Arccos uses a club-to-cloud platform technology developed by Callaway Golf, the Carlsbad, Calif., equipment maker, and designed to integrate with iPhone capabilities. It employs Google Maps software to provide on-course distances for players of some 16,000 courses. The app provides real-time, automatic tracking of statistics that include everything from distances shots travel to putts made and greens and fairways hit in regulation, so that golfers may accurately identify patterns in their games and refine tactics in how they play different courses. In addition, the Arccos app breaks down handicaps into five key components – drives, approaches, chips, bunker shots and putts – so golfers can understand better how each part of their games contributes to their scores.

      Q&A

      Paul Zinger Q&A

      Long appreciated for his grit, Paul Azinger has always been a pleasant surprise. He wasn’t picked to win a major. He wasn’t supposed to come back from cancer and win again. No one expected him to become one of the most respected television analysts in the game and he certainly wasn’t supposed to upset Nick Faldo’s European Ryder Cup team at Valhalla in 2008. Now in an exclusive interview, Azinger shares his thoughts with The Post’s Steve Eubanks on everything from Tiger and bad backs to the Ryder Cup and motorcycles. THE POST Bad backs seem more prevalent now than ever before. Why is that? AZINGER When I had back problems, every orthopedic specialist I spoke with pointed out that I had a bulging or herniated disc but also let me know that almost every human being in the world does as well. Sometimes the bulge protrudes enough that it strikes a nerve and the surrounding muscles spasm to protect the disc. That is very normal and something that you find in a large percentage of the general population regardless of whether or not they play golf. A ruptured disc is a much more serious and scary situation. That requires a surgical repair. But a bulging disc, which is what we keep hearing about, is quite common. THE POST Every Ryder Cup year that the U.S. doesn’t win, you look better and better. Are you surprised that your successful pod strategy – breaking the 12-man team into three fourman units – hasn’t been more thoroughly embraced? AZINGER Not really, because it was unique to me and to that team. Not everybody believes you have to go to such great lengths to create a good team atmosphere, and they might be right. The American team last time (at Medinah in 2012) had it sewn up and let it get away on the last day. Davis (Love III) and I spent a lot of time talking and if you think back on the pairings, he put guys together in a very similar way. It was just never identified as the pod system. Whatever you called it, that team dominated the team portion of the competition. It was the collapse on Sunday in the singles that turned it in Europe’s favor.

      Q&A Mike Keiser

      Mike Keiser is still on the move. In early January, the man who created Bandon Dunes and Cabot Links in Nova Scotia finalized plans for another major golf project called Sand Valley in Central Wisconsin, 15 miles south of Wisconsin Rapids and 100 miles north of Madison. Keiser spoke exclusively with The Post’s Steve Eubanks about the project as well as other topics of interest. THE POST Why Wisconsin? KEISER Easy, that’s where the big dunes are (laughing). No, really, it’s a little bit more than that, because there are big dunes all over the Nebraska sandhills, some parts of Kansas – Prairie Dunes is in Hutchinson, Kansas, for example – and I know there is sand in Idaho. But I didn’t initially know that there were sand dunes in Wisconsin, which has the added benefit of being pretty close to Chicago, Minneapolis, and quite close to Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay. It’s sort of close to nothing and central to a lot of stuff. So that location and the 80-foot sand dunes that no one knew were there other than Plum Creek Timber Company, were the plusses for Wisconsin. THE POST Your other projects have been off the beaten path, but you’ve had the ocean. And you’ve also been able to sell a sense of escapism. People who go to Bandon Dunes talk about it being like another world. Are you concerned that people will not travel to central Wisconsin or that they will not find it as appealing as, say, the Pacific Northwest or the coast of Nova Scotia? KEISER Yes, I am and it is definitely true sand dunes plus the ocean is a stronger draw than just sand dunes. The proximity to people counterbalances some of that, but if (demographics) were all that there was, I don’t think I would have done it.
      GlobalGolfPost-April-01-2013-Page12

      Mike Kerr, Asian Tour CEO

      Lewine Mair recently visited with Mike Kerr, the Asian Tour’s CEO, and the result was a wide-ranging interview focusing, among other things, on how quickly Asian golfers are closing the talent gap. They also discuss an expected closing of the prize money gap that will eventually force the world’s best to play more in and around Asia simply because of the size of the purses.

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