Thursday, October 9, 2014

Ryder Cup 2014 and My Trip to Scotland

Photo Credits: Dawn Mannix, Ray Matthew and David Kerr

It has taken me over a week to come to grips with the loss of Ryder Cup Team USA at Gleneagles. At this point I should be accustomed to rooting for a heartbreaking team because I am also a lifelong Mets’ fan. I suppose I expect more out of Team USA because the individual stats do not predict that they are most likely to lose. Going into this Ryder Cup the US Team actually had a lower average world rank of individual players.  It’s baffling.

Additionally, drama has ensued post Ryder Cup akin to Days of Our Lives regarding what transpired in the US team room on Saturday evening. If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am Team Phil because when questioned in the press conference, he actually was frank about what had transpired. I respect the fact that he is vocal and forthcoming. Being a legend does not give you carte blanche to behave poorly. A strong team has strong leadership and a plan of action. If you are willing to draw the conclusion that Paul McGinley captained Team Europe in an exceptional manner to a win, than the US loss is not entirely on the players. Yes, they have the responsibility of playing well when they are out there but strategy also plays a huge role in winning. Perhaps, benching Keegan and Phil all of Saturday was not a brilliant idea. Now, as a fan I am left questioning whether the strategy employed was a true plan to win or the result of in fighting among Team USA.

Furthermore, I have never noticed a PGA of America President love the spotlight as much as Ted Bishop garbed head to toe in Team USA Attire at the event, making regular appearances on Matt Adams’ show Fairway’s of Life on Sirius XM. The omnipresence of Ted Bishop leading up to and at this Ryder Cup was simply overkill. The Europeans have the European Tour and three prior Ryder Cup Captains elect their Team Captain. The PGA Tour and its players are not involved in the selection process for the US Captain. Perhaps, it is time for the PGA of America to relinquish control.

Ironically, Ted Bishop is now advocating for a panel to select a Ryder Cup Captain for the US Team. Paul Azinger who captained the winning Team USA in 2008 had suggested a similar idea, a Ryder Cup committee to expedite all matters Ryder Cup. This latest move by Mr. Bishop appears less like a novel original idea with the intent to win and more about reading the writing on the wall and attempting to maintain control.

So, I traversed roughly 3700 miles to support the team that I believe so much in and I would love to share some of my experiences from my trip to Scotland with you.  The week before I was leaving I developed a lovely sinus infection and had my dog suffering from a stomach ailment. The morning of my trip my garage door decided to break, imagine all 115lbs of me attempting to manually lift a double garage door. I made it to the airport with the intent to only check my clubs and carry on all of my clothing, which was neatly rolled into my small luggage. I was confronted by a United Airline’s employee that insisted that I put my underwear in my handbag because my luggage appeared stuffed, I obliged. I knew that because I had a layover in New York something would definitely get lost and I was right. When I arrived in Edinburgh, my clubs were on another plane bound for Scotland. The airline reassured me that my clubs would be delivered to the residence that I was staying, later in the day. (They had better arrive since I was playing the Old Course at St. Andrews the following morning with three friends.)

Off I went to nervously collect my rental car, and follow the non-in dash shit GPS that the rental car company so kindly furnished. As I was attempting to find my way out of the maze that is the area surrounding the Edinburgh Airport, there was suddenly a maintenance cone in the middle of the roadway, which I promptly clipped with the passenger side mirror of the car. That’s right, jetlagged moments from leaving the airport I had 400 pounds worth of damage to my rental vehicle. Off I continued on my way to Stirling.

Upon arrival at the residence where I had leased a room for the week, no address was visible and I stood outside deliberating if I was in the right place. The front door was plastered with promotional posters advocating a “No Vote” on the Scottish Secession referendum. I rang the doorbell of this magnificent massive grey-stone Victorian and a lovely older couple answered the door. The gentleman exclaimed, “what, are you 18?” They were apparently expecting me to be much older since I was travelling alone. I reassured them that I was in fact 20 years older than I apparently appeared. My Host and Hostess were exceedingly kind; they accompanied me to a mechanic and the rental car company to get estimates to repair the damage to the car mirror. It turned out that the gentleman was very involved in local politics hence all of the referendum posters, and he was more than willing to regale me with political talk and his loathing of organized religion. I surmised that this was not the time to ask where the nearest Catholic Church was so that I could attend mass on Sunday to pray for Team USA.

After my car drama I was terrified to drive to St. Andrews at 5 in the morning on Wednesday, as I had planned. Lucky for me, I have an incredibly gracious friend in Dave, who was willing to do the driving and collect Kieran, one of the other members of our foursome. Kieran put our names into the Monday Ballot and we managed to miraculously get drawn. St. Andrews is just as mythical as it appears on TV as you make the drive into the town. I was awestruck. We met up with Ray, our fourth at the new clubhouse. At this point I want to inform you that it is thanks to Twitter that I have made these three friends. We have conversed for several years about all things golf and everyday life. I consider myself privileged to know these three gentlemen. I have had the honor now of golfing with several people that I have met via Twitter. It is special to connect with people that love the game as much as I do and enjoy a round of golf.

As I was standing on the first tee attired in my IJP Design tartans, I was in shock, having the most surreal golfing experience of my life. I was at the home of golf, the most storied course in the world on the verge of hitting a tee shot aimed toward a gorse bush, with a readily made audience milling around. Breath, Dawn, just breathe, all I could think and with that I rose to the occasion and hit a good tee shot. We were off and I promptly managed to find trouble on the first hole. The magnitude of the occasion got to me and I promptly ended up taking my max on the first hole. The day held missed birdie putts, pars, bogies and bigger numbers. I’m proud to say that I bogeyed 17. Overall, it was an amazing round, in ideal weather conditions with incredible people. One of the members of our group had a career round and I am so happy that I was there to witness such a round of golf. This round of golf was the absolute highlight of my trip to Scotland. I flopped out of cavernous bunkers. On one occasion I had some major issues navigating my visit to the sand. I have photos galore to share with you from my experience, that I have incorporated into the slideshow at the beginning of the blog.

Me teeing off,photo credit: Dave Kerr

When I arrived back in Stirling, my host was kind enough to come outside and interrogate my poor friend and attempt to lure him into the house for a Scotch.  This series of events seemed to replay itself daily for the duration of my visit. Every friend that I made plans with for the duration of my stay in Scotland was subject to questioning. There was a great deal of discussion about whether I was a pro golfer, a celebrity and why I had all of these friendships, among my hosts and the other guests inhabiting the house. I attempted to reassure everyone that I was simply a golf enthusiast and no more, to no avail. I spent most of my visit with a red face due to the degree of speculation and if I am being entirely honest it made me feel a little awkward. One night I was out at dinner with two friends and had a few glasses of wine, I went directly to bedroom to avoid an inquisition tipsy and that created more speculation. The prevalent theory was that I never returned to the house that evening. Meanwhile, I was slumbering in my bed above the boisterous dining room in anticipation of being ready to leave for Gleneagles at 5:30 am to watch the golf.

Dave Kerr, Kieran Clark, Ray Matthew and Myself

Although the setting of Gleneagles is stunning, I was not impressed with the overall layout of the Jack Nicklaus designed Centenary Course. The 18th Dun Roamin’ had a fairway and green complex that, in particular I found to be a bit ridiculous. See the accompanying photo, if watching the televised event did not give you a good perspective. In contrast, I loved the 16th hole, Lochlan Loup that played 543 yard, Par 5 and was a risk reward with your second shot. There was water short of the green. On Thursday I watched the US Team practicing and going at the green. It was a great hole for up close golf observation.

The 18th Hole of the Centenary Course

There were so many people decked out in fine fashion and costumed at the tourney. This is one of the things that make the Ryder Cup such a unique golf experience. In addition to the singing European flag behind the first tee, I saw men dressed as Old Tom Morris, in American Flag kilts and as panda bears at Gleneagles.  I had patriotic attire for every day of the event, unfortunately I was unable to “Fashion Update” due to issues with the international data plan that I paid for and this was frustrating. I love being able to share everything in real time via social media and this situation was a bit of an impediment.

Thursday through Sunday I walked every inch of the golf course repeatedly. If you were at the Ryder Cup, I do not need to tell you about Mount Everest that one needed to scale to go from the second to the third hole. My legs sustained quite a workout, particularly the day that I opted for Wellies due to the possibility of rain. When you reached the summit that was the third hole, the mountain-view was spectacular. It was breathtaking, and relatively quiet in contrast to the pandemonium occurring on hole one.

Since I was on the course from darkness until dusk, I consumed a substantial amount of food on the golf course. I came to love the Jamie Oliver pork sandwiches that were available in the spectator village. At present, I am abstaining from bacon due to what I will refer to as a misuse of bacon in bland sandwiches on the golf course. I attempted to order an egg and sausage sandwich at one point and was handed a hot dog with a fried egg on top of it. Thursday I had lunch in the Argyle Pavilion with a good friend, it was quite posh inside that tent. It was all Champagne and berries with crème fraiche.

As I was checking in to board my flight home, I realized that American Ryder Cup Attendees surrounded me. In fact, my flight was full of Americans who had travelled to support Team USA, excitedly talking about Hazeltine in 2016 and making the trip to Chaska, Minnesota. This served as a reminder that the American sporting spirit is one of resilience too. The display that I witnessed out of Ryder Cup Rookies, Patrick Reed, Jordan Spieth and Jimmy Walker was proof that the best is yet to come.

In spite of the US loss, and my auto mishap, I intend to return to Scotland to golf again in the future. The Scottish people are warm and friendly. The scenery is enthralling and well, it is the birthplace of the game that I adore. Upon my return visit, I hope to not be confronted with that damn Ole Ole soccer chant which has somehow morphed into a European battle cry.

Friday, August 8, 2014

My Daughter is Amazing

“You’re holding three medals, we are insanely proud of you, there are other little girls with no medals, don’t cry.” These were my words to my daughter two days ago after she competed in the sub regional for Drive, Chip and Putt at Cog Hill Golf and Country Club. She was naturally upset that only the top two finishers advance to the regional at Crooked Stick in Indiana and she had placed third. Six points stood between her and advancing, when all was said and done.

Hailey was completely inconsolable; meanwhile my Husband and I were in complete awe of her ability to garner 60 points with her effort. You get three putts, at different distances, three chips at the same distance and three drives. Right out of the gate, she holed the first putt, the second putt was within inches of the hole and the long distance putt was close enough to garner some points. As I was watching this display, I was thinking I ought to be taking putting lessons from my nine year old.  She came in 1st place for putting, scoring 45 points.

When it came to the chipping portion of the competition she struggled but in fairness the chip was downhill, the green sloped left to right. The children were setup to chip from the far right side of pin. I debated about whether to say anything to my daughter about making the ball land left and run out. I did not. Looking back, I wish I had said something to her, to avoid her being disappointed about not advancing. At the same time, I’m never going to be standing next to her, arming her with extra information on a golf course, unless I am caddying for her. She went on to only score one point for the chipping portion of the competition.

The driving portion of the competition is last. The fairway was fairly wide, giving the children a fairly good chance of scoring points. Hailey scored 14 points, all three of her drives counted for points. She came in 2nd place for driving.

It’s such a delicate balance as a parent to a natural athlete, as Hailey is, when it comes to helping. My Husband and me have a hand off policy with her, in that we exert no pressure. We do not do overbearing helicopter parenting. She is also an incredible soccer player, very tenacious for her stature. People have been approaching us since she was seven with regard to recruiting her for travel soccer. We decided as parents that travel soccer at seven was not in her best interest.

Now, she has had some lessons with PGA teaching professionals in Maryland and Illinois. My Husband and me have given her general golf instructions. The two children that advanced had proper swing instructors. The notion of a swing instructor for a nine year old seems like overkill to me. I don’t want to ruin golf for her at nine; I want her to love this game for a lifetime. She has been blessed with such a beautiful natural move at the ball, the type of swing that makes a pro scoring a competitions jaw drop. Part of me is afraid to let anyone intervene at this stage.

In some ways I can’t relate to my daughter. I have always been athletic but I have always had to work really hard to achieve anything. Here, I have this little girl who is naturally gifted with an insatiable desire to compete. So, I stood there trying to console her, telling her an anecdote about how I came in second in a basketball one on one competition at age eight.  I was attempting to illicit a smile or laughter, informing her that only two people showed up to he tournament. I’m parentally at a bit of a loss, with that in mind, this closing portion of the blog is directed at my Hailey, who thinks Mom writes a blob and that it is incredibly nerdy.

Hailey, you have given my life more meaning since you came into it a little over nine years ago, than it ever had. You and your little brother are the reason I get up every morning. You are my heart. If you scored no goals on the field or no birdies on the golf course, (she nearly had an eagle a few weeks ago) it would not make me love you less. Everything you do, you do with so much heart. In life, the effort that you put in is what truly matters, and that you have fun. You got three medals on Wednesday, all by yourself. You outdrove and outputted the little girl that won the competition, which makes little sense looking back on the event. You accomplished all of this by yourself, without a swing instructor, or me and dad hovering over you. You were remarkable. I marvel at you. We will spend more time working on your chipping and next year, you will return victorious.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Custom Club Fitting

Back in May I was approached by the PGA Tour Superstore to participate in their Custom Fit Club Fitting Event. Basically, I come in for a free fitting with a professional and the store gives me free equipment. The only matter that gave me pause before saying yes to this opportunity was that most of my equipment is fairly new. I replaced my irons in Spring of 2013; my driver and three wood are about two years old. My mentality about clubs is that if they are still working, they retain their space in my bag. The Cobra four hybrid that I carry is 8 years old.

So, I said yes and went in for the club fitting since I am at a stage in my ongoing love affair with golf, where being armed with more information and custom fitted equipment could only bolster my game. As an aside, the head professional at my home course informed me that by accepting over a certain dollar figure in equipment, there was a chance that I was giving up my ability to compete in certain amateur competitions.

Disclaimer, I have been approached several times to use different golf products and talk about them publicly and I have said no. When we relocated to Chicago in Spring of 2013, I fell in love with the PGA Tour Superstore in Downer’s Grove, Illinois because of the broad selection of equipment they offer, particularly for women and the plethora of golf apparel. As you know if you follow me on social media, I have quite the assortment of golf clothing. This is a store I shop at frequently and talk about constantly anyway.

One Sunday afternoon back in May, directly after a round of 18, 
I met with Dave Sluder, the head club fitter at the Downer’s Grove PGA Tour Superstore for a full bag fitting.  Before I touched a club, the fitter measure my arms and hands. I went into this completely opened minded and willing to listen to all of the feedback I was given. Most locations of the PGA Tour Superstore have eight monitors.

We started with a driver fitting. My last two drivers have been Taylormade, so I tested the SLDR. Lofting up wasn’t working out for me and I was getting too much spin with this particular driver. After demoing several drivers, we deduced that I was getting an ideal launch angle and spin rate with the Callaway Big Bertha driver with 13.5 degrees of loft and a 50 gram Mitsubishi Fubuki Zeta Graphite shaft. I also added a Big Bertha 3W and a 5W to my bag. I was a little uncertain about carrying a 5 Wood because in the past when I have carried one it has been used infrequently.

Before we moved on to the iron fitting a discussion ensued about how people focus on the wrong numbers on the monitor. To summarize, ignore the distances you see on the monitor and focus on your launch angle, spin rate and club head speed. These are the numbers that are critical.

Dave put tape on all of the irons that I was going to demo so that we could see where on the face I was making impact on good swings and mishits. I demoed six sets of irons. The club fitter remarked that my set up to the ball, grip and the manner that I come through the ball were all good. When I did have a mishit it was tempo related and closer to the heel. I was fitted for Titleist AP1 714s 5-W bent 1 degree flat with Mitsubishi Kuro Kage 50 gram graphite shafts. I also added a Cleveland 588 54 degree wedge to my bag.

Finally, we moved on to a putter fitting. The club fitter remarked that I had too much wrist involvement in my stroke. To compensate for my non-quiet wrists Mr. Sluder suggested that I consider going with an oversized Superstroke 3.0 grip. I ended up settling on an Odyssey Versa Black White Black Putter.

Prior to writing this particular blog post I wanted to play with my new equipment for several weeks before I gave an honest assessment as to whether this club fitting was beneficial to me. The Titleist  AP1 714s were backordered until mid June and that threw a wrench in the works.

For the past three weeks I have been playing with my new equipment. After the first round I decided that in order to keep my rounds fun while adjusting to the new driver, I would continue to carry my old driver, a Taylormade RBZ with 10.5 degrees of loft. I had the space in my bag to do a Phil. What I found with the new driver was that when I mishit it, I was spraying the ball errant. Going from 10.5 to 13.5 degrees of loft is a massive adjustment. The notion ideally is to get more carry. In one instance where my contact was perfect with the Callaway Big Bertha I murdered a drive 30 yards past my longest drive on a particular hole.

The Titleist 714 AP1s, I want to marry them.(to borrow from my kids' everyday slang) My feel is incredible and the ball gets up easily. Sadly, I do have a slight gap in my bag. I would love to add a 3 iron back in, once I have the driver situation sorted out.

The 5 Wood whose purpose I deliberated has become my favorite club in the bag. It’s is a lot easier to hit off of the fairway than a 3 Wood. It is nice to be confident holding a club.

The only club that I was fitted for that I am not enamored with is the putter. I love the oversized grip but, I have found that I simply have less feel off the face of the Odyssey Versa Putter. My old putter is not broken; it’s a Nike Method Putter. I have such great feel off of the Polymetal face.  Sadly, I am not carrying the new putter. I most likely will re-grip my Nike Putter with an oversized SuperStroke grip.

Go get a fitting. If you are going to spend major money on equipment, do not buy it off the rack. You are cheating yourself if you do. The PGA Tour Superstore will soon have 22 locations. They have well informed club fitters, who are not paid commission to push given equipment on you.

In closing, the best thing about being presented with the nice opportunity of the Custom Club Fit Event was that I get to pay it forward. I am donating a set of irons to the First Tee of Chicago. Our teenage babysitter expressed an interest in the golf team at her High School and I am giving her a game improvement set of Pings I have in my garage. This is a great way to grow the game, by giving your old equipment to newer golfers.