Monday, February 21, 2011

How the FedExCup can explain disdain for the Official World Golf Ranking

Golf is not a sport for mathematicians. It doesn’t require a degree in rocket science to be able to add, despite the body of evidence with disqualifications of many players for not adding right.

At one time – a distant time – knowing the best player in the game at any one time was easy. It was a combination of the player who had the most wins and had made the most money.

Now, though, the golf world is bigger in terms of money and sheer geography. Tracking the best player in the world in a tougher exercise. Two systems – one domestic, one global – dominate the conversation: the Official World Golf Ranking and the FedExCup.

Frankly, it’s only in the last 18 months that anyone seemed to care about the Official World Golf Ranking. When Tiger Woods was far and away the best player in the world, the OWGR confirmed that time and again (though, even then, it was in a flawed way). By and large, there was little need for scrutiny.

But the FedExCup was a different animal. Started in 2007, the points system was crushed from the start. The criticisms were numerous:

* It’s too hard to figure out the permutations.
* It doesn’t offer enough volatility.
* It’s basically the money list without points.
* Dear God, what if Tiger doesn’t win?!
* …and so many more.

Unlike the OWGR, which had already long since crowned Woods as the unquestioned ruler of the golf universe, the FedExCup had yet to successfully do that in 2007. Even when Woods won the first FedExCup that fall, critics were still laying into the system for its flaws – some of which are still apparent.

As the system has been modified twice of the four years of its existence, the criticisms have been from one of two camps: to identify the best, most consistent player; or from a camp of people who feel the playoff moniker should imply more volatility in the rankings from week to week. In that sense, the dual purpose of the concept has really hurt in shaping its identity.

Now, though, the Official World Golf Ranking is the target of similar complaining. And, the system clearly has some flaws – which we have discussed at length – but the OWGR is a necessary device in today’s golfing world. That’s true not just because the best player in the world currently is not readily apparent to anyone, but because the depth of talent in the world is such that there must be a system to identify the pick of the various litters around the world.

The Official World Golf Ranking, though, is tricky. Computing it requires more than addition. It takes some multiplication and division and subtraction. Depending on who you ask, some calculus, too. (Actually, it could.) An accountant wouldn’t hurt to have on retainer because of the points depreciation. It makes criticizing it tougher because offering a viable alternative – or series of changes – a larger exercise.

The overarching problem with both systems – the regular season part of the FedExCup and the Official World Golf Ranking – is the same, though. Both reward consistency too much. Admittedly, that’s desirable for some. Having a world No. 1 who has two non-silly season wins in two years but a bevy of high finishes is a lightning rod for the concept. (It’s easier to attack the top than the margins, which is where the biggest issues with the OWGR lie.)

What the FedExCup had to do was walk a double-edge tight rope – favor the likes of Tiger, who was the best, but also offer some unpredictability. Once Tiger left room for an understudy to take center stage, it seems like Matt Kuchar was embraced by some for being so consistent in 2010. For others, he was the subject of complaints that the state of golf without Tiger is one filled with parity. It might work for team sports, but parity in individual sports is just too much to handle. (Then again, NASCAR fans might beg for some of that parity juice right now.)

As for the OWGR, it must identify a best player while facing myriad issues that get in its way – uneven money, various forms of payola and the proliferation of foreign golf tournaments run by talent management agencies. Critics, like me, want it to promote the best of the moment while maintaining a close eye on its place as the gateway into majors and big tournaments. It faces a task it can achieve, but simply isn’t equipped to fully handle right now.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

John Devine, Just a thought: Celebrities are stars of AT&T

Watching Dwight Clark take part in Tuesday's Google Charity Shootout brought me back to 1982 when Clark was catching a memorable pass that helped the San Francisco 49ers reach the Super Bowl.

As a kid in college who still believed I was going to be an Olympic sprinter in 1982, I set foot on Pebble Beach for the first time as a reporter, catching a glimpse of Clark golfing with a large following that included Joe Montana.

While I have never had a passion to golf 18 holes, the celebrity portion of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro Am has lured me back 29 straight years.

This is Pebble Beach, a world renown golf course with some of the most spectacular views in the world, where the celebrities are the real attraction. And I'm standing on the 18th hole listening to Clark's conversation.

It never gets old.

Oh, the weather isn't always as charming as it was this weekend. I have stood in the rain with seagulls and avoided frost bite with the deer along the majestic course.

It could always be worse, such as walking the streets of Dallas during Super Bowl week in an ice and snow storm in 12 degree temperature, with a wind chill of two degrees.

I've crossed paths with a lot of stars hanging out on the famed links. It can be intimidating trying to convince them to give you five minutes. Let's be honest, my media badge doesn't say TMZ or ESPN.

It's funny how a brief conversation can change your entire perception of someone.

I'll never forget having a conversation with rock star Alice Cooper. It was the most intellectual interview I have ever done. Don't be misled by the raggedy hair or makeup.

When asked about the difference between playing golf and being on stage, Cooper said, "I can not see the audience on stage. But on the golf course, all eyes are on you."

I was not sure what to think when talking to Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith a few years back. My most vivid memory of "The Wizard" was cheap-shooting the Giants' Will Clark at second base in the 1987 playoffs.

Turns out Smith was humble and very polite. The fog had rolled in and it was cold. But Smith — with his wife by his side along the scoreboard on 18 — stood and answered each question.

One of my all-time favorite interviews was with NBA Hall of Famer Julius Erving. Not only did Dr. J sit down with me after playing 18 awful holes, but he offered to buy lunch.

I found Dallas quarterback Tony Romo to be respectful and sharp with his answers. Yeah, he's got a little attitude. But it's more confidence than arrogance. He gets the fact that this is a celebrity tournament.

Trust me, there are exceptions. Former quarterback Bob Griese, who led Miami to a 17-0 season in 1972, got in a car after one question and bolted as if a charging lineman was headed in his direction.

Donald Trump had flair and was amusing. On the course, he had a temper, slamming his iron into the turf a time or two. Hey, the guy is competitive.

Singer Huey Lewis was entertaining. He made sure we both had fun, making the interview feel more like a casual conversation with your neighbor.

For the spectator, there are few places or events where you can get an actor, musician or jock to stop and sign an autograph or pose for a photo.

They're out of their realm when it comes to swinging a club on the links. Golf is a humbling sport. At the same time, they're still entertainers. Most of them realize the galleries are filled with star struck spectators.

Hey, who doesn't want to spend a week on the peninsula and say they played Pebble?

The environment along the Pacific is as peaceful as the sport, unless you're paired with Bill Murray.

John Devine can be reached at and 646-4405.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Golf World: Better stance, alignment leads to consistency

There are two types of fundamentals that a golfer must learn: (1) Pre-swing and (2) In-swing.

The pre-swing fundamentals are those things that happen before any movement occurs. These are static rather than dynamic fundamentals. Fortunately for us, these pre-swing fundamentals have a direct bearing on how we swing the club.

Some examples of these fundamentals are stance, alignment, posture, ball position, clubface aim, weight distribution, and tension level.

Let's focus on stance, alignment and ball position. No greater player than Jack Nicklaus said that the feet, knees and hips were one of the most important fundamentals in golf.

The golf swing is a ground-reaction game, so therefore, we need a correct stance in order to be consistent. The width of the stance is important for stability and freedom of movement. A stance that is too narrow will result in poor balance, while a stance that is too wide will restrict movement and cause unnecessary lateral movement with the body toward the target. Stances are also classified as open, closed or square.

Some players, mainly senior players, play out of a slightly closed stance. This stance is lined up slightly right of the target. This allows the player to make a better body turn on the backswing and, generally, will help the golfer hook the ball. Sam Snead played this way. He aimed to the right and "came over the top" on the downswing. His shot was a pull hook that was very consistent. Arnold Palmer also played out of a closed stance most of his career.

The other stance type is called the open stance. In this stance, the left foot is pulled off the target line. This stance will restrict the turning motion of the hips on the backswing, but will help the hips turn out of the way on the forward swing. Lee Trevino played this way. This stance is hard on the back, and not generally recommended for the average player. The open stance encourages a left-to-right fade.

The other stance type is the square stance. This stance is used by most golfers, and is a stance that is parallel to the target line. The thing that I see most golfers leaving out of their stance is what I call foot flare. Foot flare is simply flaring out the left foot about 15 to 20 degrees at the setup. This also helps the golfer turn his hips and body through the shot on the forward swing.

Body alignment or shoulder alignment is another pre-swing fundamental that should be addressed. The direction the shoulders are aimed has a direct bearing on the path of the clubhead through impact.

For example, if the shoulders are lined up too far to the left of the target at address, the golfer will cut across the ball and hit a pull hook or pull slice. On the other hand, if the shoulders are lined up to the right of the target at address, the golfer would probably swing too "inside out" and hook the ball.

You can work on your stance and your posture by putting two clubs down on the ground as you are practicing. One club is for the stance and shoulder line, and one club for the target line. A third club can be put in between your feet in order to keep your ball position consistent.

I use a training aid called the Practice Pod that works on all three of these pre-swing fundamentals. Sometimes the simplest fundamentals will make the biggest difference in your game.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Watson up to 18th in world

Bubba Watson's second PGA Tour win helped him improve 15 spots to No. 18 in this week's world golf rankings.

The top three remained the same with Lee Westwood first followed by Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods. Phil Mickelson took second place behind Watson and moved up two places to No. 4.

Graeme McDowell slid one spot to fifth, while Volvo Golf Champions winner Paul Casey jumped three to No. 6. Steve Stricker dipped a pair to seventh, while Rory McIlroy and Jim Furyk both slipped one to eighth and ninth, respectively.

Luke Donald held steady on No. 10 and was again followed by Ernie Els, Ian Poulter and Matt Kuchar.

Dustin Johnson improved two places to No. 14. Retief Goosen dipped a notch to 15th, Robert Karlsson inched up a spot to 16th, while Francesco Molinari fell two places to 17th.

Watson was followed by Louis Oosthuizen and Edoardo Molinari, who both dropped one to 19th and 20th.

Tim Clark, last week's No. 20, tumbled two to 22nd this week.