Thank you all. It was a great ride.

I have decided that after a year and half of writing and maintaining Just Tap It In that it is time to close up shop.

Writing about golf is deeply rewarding for me, as I love the game to a ridiculous degree. In fact, it was so rewarding that I pursued a career in the sport and now work for the game that I love so dearly.

But don’t worry! Despite the fact that I am done writing on this blog, I have a new creative outlet that is just a couple of months old. The Daily Pulp (www.the-daily-pulp.com) is my new platform, and I have a team of talented writers behind me this time. I also plan on using the “Just Tap It In” brand from time to time to muse on golf. So head over there and check out all the great content.

I want to thank everyone who has read this blog and helped me over its lifespan, particularly Chris Wilson and the NGA Tour staff. Without you guys, this would not have reached the heights that it did.

Thank you everyone. Keep ‘em in the short grass.

Alex

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Do equipment changes matter?

At the Hyundai Tournament of Champions this week in Hawaii, Kyle Stanley and Nick Watney are debuting their sparkly new Nike equipment (assuming Poseidon turns the wind off down there). With rumors swirling of a Nike deal for golf’s golden boy, Rory McIlory, Nike is making some headlines that don’t include their feline poster-child.

But does switching equipment make a discernible difference in quality of play? Will switching make Rory’s position at the summit of the golf world shorter lived, or will he continue like nothing is different?

Before I go into anymore discussion, I want to note that for the rumored amount of cash this deal is worth — 10 years, $250 million — Rory would probably play with an old set of Ping Eye 2 irons and a putter from Magic Mountain. To say that he shouldn’t take the deal is to say he should turn that kind of money down, and in no way do I believe anyone on earth would turn down that kind of coin. Rory is within a month of my age; if someone offered me $250 million to blog on a 1999 Dell desktop, I would do it.

Not that I am saying that Nike’s clubs are inferior, I think we are long past that kind of assumption and controversy from the early 2000s. Clearly Nike clubs can lead to major championships (see: Tiger Woods, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink).

Changing equipment does affect the fragile feeling of confidence on a golf course, however. Whether the new Nike sticks are all that different from the Titleists in terms of technical specifications (I assume they are close to being clones) is irrelevant. Looking down and seeing a Nike swoosh instead of a Titleist logo will be unquestioningly different for McIlroy.

Phil Mickelson learned better than anyone the ramifications of an equipment change when he switched to Callaway in 2004, just days before the Ryder Cup.

I attended that Ryder Cup at Oakland Hills outside Detroit, and will never forget watching Tiger and Phil — captain Hal Sutton paired them together that week, brilliant move — approach the drivable par-4 6th hole. Woods and Mickelson were playing best ball (not a lot of fairways hit in that twosome) and Mickelson pulled driver to give it a go. He proceeded to hit a slice so magnificently far left that it would have made Barack Obama uncomfortable. He had a mediocre week and took a lot of flak for changing equipment right before the event.

That being said, Mickelson was eventually able to settle into his clubs and win just as big as he did prior to the switch. Woods also had a period of struggles when he switched his irons to Nike and went through the aforementioned attacks that his equipment was inferior, but he persevered. I am still not sure why he shelved his Scotty Cameron putter for the Nike Method. That one is still a head scratcher.

Clearly there is a grace period of learning the clubs and practicing with them to feel comfortable; this is likely what McIlroy is doing during this offseason — when he isn’t buying Caroline Wozniacki giant diamonds (is my jealousy showing through? Rory is living the dream).

Expect Rory to struggle in his first few outings with his new equipment. But once he breaks through with that first win and he gains that all important confidence, look out.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Tension: The golf swing killer

I promised some anecdotal golf advice in this blog in addition to professional and amateur analysis. Since we are in the midst of the “Silly Season”— as of this writing, the biggest golf event on TV is the Shark Shootout — it seems like a perfect time to recall a story from my competitive golfing days.

A little background on me: I played three years of varsity golf for Olentangy Liberty High School in Powell, Ohio, north of Columbus. Our team was a bit like the Atlanta Falcons — sometimes mediocre, sometimes great, sometimes steady, but never quite advancing out of the first round when the playoffs started. I was never the go-to guy on the team, but I was always steady. In my senior season, my score counted in every single tournament, and my scoring average was just north of 79. That was also the season that my handicap went sub-4 for the first time. Competitive high school golf is something I miss on a daily basis, and I relish the chance to play in any tournaments now.

Along with those accomplishments, I was also known for some less-inspiring play on my team. I once shot 63 on 9 holes my freshman year on the JV squad, and followed that up with a 77 on 18 less than two weeks later. I also developed a reputation for shooting 45 on the outward nine and 36 coming in; consistency, as it were, was something that eluded me over the course of a round.

I already gave the anecdote about the time I blew a 1-under through 15 holes start to shoot 77 in the county tournament my senior year. I learned from that experience that winning is, simply, hard. So for this edition of “tales from my high school golf days,” I am going to go to the same Delaware County Cup Tournament, just one year earlier.

My high school was located about a Bubba Watson power fade from a country club that allowed us practicing privileges, as well as limited matches and tournaments. In fact, I worked there for a summer. It was a golf course I mostly enjoyed. What do I like in a golf course? Wide fairways and giant greens (it is clear why I love links golf so much).

During my junior year, it was our team’s turn to host the end-of-the-year tournament between the high schools in our county (Thankfully, this didn’t include Dublin Jerome, which is a high school that is located mostly around a golf course you may have heard of, Muirfield Village. Those kids were hitting golf balls in the womb). Naturally, we hosted the event at our home course by the school, Kinsale Golf and Country Club.

Needless to say, our team felt good about the event considering we played the course so many times. I remember my mom also decided to come out that day to watch.

My day started on the back nine, which wasn’t particularly pleasing to me, because the back nine starts on a tight par-4 (see: earlier where I describe my favorite type of golf course). I made an easy par to open, however, and things were off to a good start. The opening par-4 was followed by another drama-free par on the dogleg-left par-5 second. Things were looking up, or so I thought.

Standing on the 12th tee (my third hole of the day), the tension was noticeable. This was the last tight par-4 for a while, and if I could just get the tee shot in the fairway, I might be on my way to a great round. I made my swing and my tee ball faded a bit more than I would have liked into a small area that was technically someone’s property, and thus, out of bounds.

My blood pressure spiked.

Teeing three, I made no changes and hit the same baby fade into the out of bounds area.

Uh oh. I am reeling now.

Thinking there is no way I would hit three in the same spot, I re-teed and proceeded to hit it so close to the second shot that the balls were probably touching. Three out of bounds.

Embarrassment and anger are kicking in.

The fourth one definitely wasn’t going right. Instead, I overcorrected and knocked it out of bounds to the left.

RED ALERT.

I finally changed clubs (yes, a caddie probably would have done that for me sooner), and kept the fifth drive in the fairway. At this point my mind was blank and I was basically numb. One of the biggest events of our season, and I was going to put up a score worthy of John Daly or a trip to Hiawatha (if any of my former teammates are reading, they know what I am talking about). Needless to say I told my mom she didn’t need to stick around to see me make anymore numbers that looked more like football scores than golf scores.

When I tapped in for my 9-over-par 13, something funny happened though: My tension melted away. The nice thing about a six-man high school tournament is that only four scores count. At this point, I figured my score wouldn’t count, so what was there to be nervous about? I might as well try to enjoy myself.

What followed was maybe the most easy and consistent 15 holes of golf I have ever played. After the 13, I exhaled all the tension and stress and was able to just play golf with no fear. I made two birdies and two bogies and finished at nine over, an 81. Not only did my score count, but it was one of the better scores on our team that day.

What does this story teach us about the golf swing? Tension, doubt and nerves are all detriments to good golf. The very best are able to channel that tension into a state of calm that allows them to make free and clear swings. How many times have you taken a second attempt at a putt with no fear, only to see it find the bottom of the cup? How many times have you struck it perfectly on the range, only to be hopelessly lost on the course?

The culprit? Nerves, and the tension they create.

Recently, my golf game has turned a corner and I am playing my best golf since that senior year of high school. My only change, an extra waggle to relax the muscles in my arms, shoulders and upper body.

Tension is the great destroyer of golf swings, and I am a testament to that. Before you go trying to overhaul your swing, make an effort to relax yourself on the course. A relaxed golf swing is the basis of a great golf swing.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

If PGA Tour players were NFL players

If you missed it, Phil Mickelson took a shot during halftime of Monday Night Football  this week in San Diego to try and raise money for a literacy charity.

While the shot sailed long, Mickelson still raised $50,000 and got me thinking: Mickelson would be a solid quarterback. His 6’4″ frame and lack of any doubt or fear would make him a formidable signal caller if he had chosen the pigskin over the flat stick.

“My mother wouldn’t let me play football, thought it might be too dangerous.”
“Oh yeah? Good call.”

 

So, with the PGA Tour season winding down and football in full swing, here are a few PGA Tour stars and their NFL counterparts.

Phil Mickelson: Brett Favre

Not only is Phil Mickelson built like a quarterback, he possesses the “go for broke” mindset of Brett Favre as well. Just as Favre never saw a throw he didn’t like, Mickelson has never seen a shot he didn’t like. Sure, Favre and Mickelson have both made some bonehead decisions in their day — looking at you, driver at Winged Foot on the 18th in 2006 — but those same risks are what makes them so successful (see: 13th at Augusta from the pine straw).

Tiger Woods: Jerry Rice

Tiger Woods has notched his way to 74 PGA Tour victories through consistently stellar play over one of the most dominant 15 year stretches the game has ever seen. His fundamentals are nearly perfect in all aspects and his mental game is the sharpest. This combination has translated into victories, championships and individual honors. Without question, his NFL doppelgänger is Jerry Rice, who played wide receiver for almost 20 years and was named by NFL.com as the greatest NFL player of all time. His consistent play earned him 13 Pro Bowl selections and three Super Bowl rings. For these two men, there are no peers.

**Bonus: Rice played in a Web.Com Tour event in 2010, where he shot 17-over and did not make the cut.

Patrick Cantlay: Andrew Luck

Cantlay turned professional this season after putting up playstation-like numbers at UCLA. In 65 career rounds there, he was a combined 35-under-par. What we don’t know is how he will fare in qualifying school and on the pro circuit. In limited starts this year, Cantlay proved he can make cuts, but will he live up to his lofty expectations? The same could be said of his counterpart, Andrew Luck, who also put up unbelievable numbers in college. Through the first few games of the NFL season, Luck has shown flashes of brilliance, but also more pedestrian flashes as well. For both of these players, only time will tell.

Lee Westwood: Tony Gonzalez

Lee Westwood and tight end Tony Gonzalez are always consistent. In fact, Westwood is so consistent he elevated himself to the No. 1 world ranking without a major win. Gonzalez is considered one of the game’s best tight ends, having missed only one pro bowl since 1999. But he, like Westwood, doesn’t have any “major” wins (Super Bowls). At some point one of these guys is going to win a championship, right?

Luke Donald: Wes Welker

Quiet confidence. Workmanlike attitude. These are the traits that Donald and Welker share. While neither player has won a major or a Super Bowl, they are both considered among the best, and it is ludicrous to think either one will go their whole career without winning the big one. Donald isn’t the longest hitter on tour. Welker isn’t the fastest wide receiver. Donald relies on sound fundamentals and consistency, and so does Welker. These are the guys you’d like to have on your side if you were picking teams.

Rory McIlroy: Drew Brees

Small in stature? Check. Ridiculous stats? Check. Have won the biggest prize in their sport? Check. While McIlroy has doubled Brees’ output in terms of championships, there isn’t a one-to-one ratio since golf plays four majors per year and there is obviously only one Super Bowl. What makes these players similar is that they consistently put up stats that make your head spin. Does Brees ever miss a throw? Does McIlroy ever miss a shot? Along with that, Brees and McIlroy are both normal, easy-going guys that are likable and relatable. The sky is the limit for both, and if I were a betting man, I wouldn’t take the under on either.

Other counterparts:

Ian Poulter: Chad Ochocinco

Talented, but often style over substance

John Daly: Ricky Williams

One thing after another has derailed their careers off and on.

Rickie Fowler: Jay Cutler

Tremendous talent, but we keep waiting for both to finally clear that hurdle and win like we know they can.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

5 Keys to a U.S. Ryder Cup victory

It is no secret that the Ryder Cup has been a playground for the European squads over the last decade. Despite often fielding a lower ranked team, the Europeans have triumphed in every Ryder Cup since 1999 sans the 2008 edition.

But why? Why can’t the Americans seem to get it done on the biggest stage in team golf, when they have largely dominated the biggest stages in individual golf over the same time period? Obviously there is no one reason for the recent European dominance. But whatever they do to prepare for the event makes them more cohesive as a team and the cups have mostly been well in hand by the time the first singles match tees off on Sunday.

To change their Ryder Cup fortunes and begin to regain what was once an aura of invincibility in the competition, this year’s star spangled warriors will have to change the way they operate and get strong showings from everyone on the squad. If the following five things happen this weekend, the U.S. Ryder Cup Team will be popping the champagne come Sunday evening.

1. Tiger and Phil tear it up

Tiger and Phil haven’t exactly dominated in Ryder Cup play.
Image courtesy of Getty Images

As these two men turn, so does the U.S. Ryder Cup Team. Woods and Mickelson have without question been the focus of the U.S. Ryder Cup teams of the last 15 years, but they have yet to fit the top-billing. The two players own over 110 PGA Tour victories and 18 majors, but they have a sub .500 record at the Ryder Cup. This make sense, because both players are self-focused and enjoy winning for themselves. Yes, Mickelson is .500 and Woods owns a 4-1-1 record in singles play, but for the Americans to have a chance at Medinah, these two players need to get off to a good start in the team portion.

For Mickelson, rookie Keegan Bradley provides a smiling partner in crime for the fourball and foursome competitions. The two will be relaxed and playing like it is a money match on a Wednesday, something they are familiar with. Woods prefers a partner with a no-nonsense attitude, and there is no player that fits that bill more than Steve Stricker. It helps that Stricker drives it straight and is the second best putter on the team behind Brandt Snedeker.

Medinah is also comfortable for both players: Woods is 2-for-2, winning the PGA Championship on the track in 1999 and 2006, while Mickelson was the low amateur in the 1990 U.S. open there. If these two win half their points in the team competition, the U.S. Stands a good chance of winning.

2. Lighten up, Francis

The Europeans have been so successful for the last few Ryder Cups because of team cohesiveness. They hang out together, they drink together, their wives walk the course together. The Americans on the other hand have seemed nervous and tight, which showed up in their play. In fact, the only U.S. win in the last 12 years was in 2008 when Boo Weekley did the bull dance from Happy Gilmore down the first fairway to relax the team.

This year, the U.S. Team seems to be making an effort to create team unity. Captain Davis Love III has installed three ping-pong tables, a corn hole set and a foosball table in the locker room. Woods seems less removed from the fun than in years past — just watch him jaunt down the fairways and laughing with his playing partners. Love III called this year’s team a “big party.” Sounds like this year’s American squad is making an effort to actually have fun rather than let the nerves build up.

3. Bomb It

Davis Love III has set up the course to play to American strengths. It is long, there is no rough and the greens are fast. Sound familiar? It should remind you of Augusta National, a course which favors Woods, Mickelson and Watson. If the course plays hard and fast as it should, it will be another advantage for the Americans. Furyk has a good track records at U.S. Opens and Webb Simpson won at the Olympic Club this year on greens that were brick-hard. A bonus here is that hard and fast conditions could take Rory McIlroy out of the game because he is known for playing better on soft and wet courses.

With no rough, the bombers on the American squad can pull driver with complete confidence. Woods and Mickelson will have no worries about driving it off-line, and when that happens, they make a lot of birdies (see: Augusta, St. Andrews, etc.). Oh, and I heard Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson can drive it decently far (Watson has been reaching the par-4 15th with 4-wood).

4. The Rookies show up

Dufner at 35 is the oldest Ryder Cup rookie.
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The rookies on this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup Squad are key for an American victory. Unlike year’s past, there is nobody on this team that is a liability. There is no Chris Riley on this squad (If you remember, he asked to be sat because of fatigue. Come on Chris, it is the Ryder Cup). Jason Dufner is one of the coolest customers in golf and his unflappable demeanor should provide an advantage for him this week. Keegan Bradley thrives on pressure, having won last year’s PGA Championship in a playoff (over Dufner). Brandt Snedeker is in no way a liability after raking in 11.44 millions dollars last week at the Tour Championship in Atlanta. He is also the truest putter on Tour, which makes him a nightmare to face in match play. The last rookie on the team? Webb Simpson, who as you might recall beat teammate Jim Furyk to win the U.S. Open this year. This U.S. Squad is as deep as it has ever been and the rookies will need to pull their weight to make it a successful week.

5. Don’t wilt under the European gamesmanship

Ian Poulter and several of the European players call this event a war. They are a tight-knit squad that excels in the team portion of the competition. To counter their unity, the Americans need to rely on a loose attitude and the supportive home crowd. Crowds have been huge for the first few practice days, and this weekend should prove to be raucous. The U.S. Team needs to feed on that energy and not allow momentum to swing to the European side.

The U.S. Team has the advantage of also having Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps around the locker room as advisors. With those two and Tiger Woods around, three of the arguably most dominant athletes of all time, the U.S. Team should be able to channel some of that clutch ability down the stretch.

 

Prediction: U.S. 16, Europe 12

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment