Get the beers on ice – Tiger’s coming

Show me the money - Tiger Woods

Show me the money - Tiger Woods

Just a few short weeks after welcoming Tiger Woods back to the game, golf has found itself embroiled in a bitter controversy surrounding the world’s greatest player.

The biggest stooshie in world golf at the moment seems to be that a bunch of Australians trying to run a golf tournament have dared to dangle a brown envelope containing $3m in unmarked bills in front of Woods’ nose while making cooing noises and come here gestures in a bid to get him to come to their party.

Woods has now pocketed the brown envelope and booked his flight to play in the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath in Melbourne in November. And you can’t blame him.

And you know what? You can’t blame the organisers either. In times when there’s more golf tournaments than there are weeks of the year, not to mention the current economic gloom, it’s more important than ever for organisers to make their tournament stand out from the crowd and appeal to sponsors.

The column inches already afforded to a tournament that is still eight months away has entirely vindicated their decision and the media circus that will surround Woods in Melbourne before, during and after his first appearance Down Under in more than a decade will give the Australiasian Tour a profile it has never before enjoyed, as well as having the sponsors drooling.

Of course, it is because part of the $3m stumped up for Woods’ appearance is reportedly coming from the Victoria state government that has caused the controversy, even though state premier John Brumby has claimed it will bring in $19m to the economy. I’m not sure how many bottles of Toohey’s Extra Dry it took to come up with that figure, it does seem a bit excessive, but there’s no doubt that when Tiger comes to town it will be big business and he’ll more than pay for his appearance fee.

Indeed, top Australian golfer Stuart Appleby put it pretty bluntly and risked the wrath of the “common man” when he said: “It will be great for the game and bring out a lot of people who haven’t seen him before, in person, not on a video game.

“There’s a lot of people hurting in Australia, and they might look negatively that one guy is paid $3m just to turn up.  The common man won’t understand the business model because the government is paying for it. They might not see the money he brings in.”

Another major bone of contention is the perceived fact that it will take the shine off the Australian Open, staged just two weeks later and historically the more prestigious of the two tournaments. Five-time Open champion and arguably Australia’s greatest ever golfer, Peter Thomson, has waded into the debate by reportedly saying: “In my view it’s going to damage our national Open. He won’t be playing in that but it sucks up potential sponsorship.”

What Thomson may be failing to take into account is that Tiger’s appearances in anything but the big tournaments are a rarity, not least those that involve travelling halfway round the world to play on a tour as small as the Australiasian Tour.

The fact that he is willing to play, albeit thanks to a wad of cash, and that it coincides with a free week is a real coup and not something that organisers could have turned their noses up at.

Who’s to say they didn’t try to get him to the Australian Open a fortnight later? The fact that the Open falls on the same dates as the LG Skins match, or the week before Tiger’s own rearranged Chevron World Challenge Match renders it improbable in the extreme that he would have agreed to play on the opposite side of the planet for even double the $3m he is already receiving.

Australian golf fans should be applauding the tournament organisers and the Victoria state government for their ambition while getting the beers on ice and preparing to see one of the greatest sportsmen alive perform in the flesh.

Of course, I have’t yet touched on the frightening consequences that money, and who has most of it, is now having and will continue to have on the game of golf. But that’s for another blog entirely.

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Slow play is killing golf – but what’s the rush?

With Tiger Woods and Adam Scott recently adding to the growing voices of discontent about slow play in the professional ranks, it has never been more of an issue in world golf.

Amateur and weekend golfers do not escape the criticism either with slow players taking the blame for the increasing number of golfers giving up the game because “they just don’t have the time.”

Logjammed weekend courses and 5-6 hour rounds are signalling the death knell for the game according to many commentators, agitators and proliferators.

But while I won’t defend the five-hour plus game in either professional or amateur golf, I do find myself wondering when golf changed from being an enjoyable yet competitive form of escapism to a frantic dash round 18 holes which leaves me more flustered than when I stepped onto the tee in the first place.

My article here at GOLFmagic.com argues why golfers should be allowed to play at their own pace (within reason). It’s safe to say judging by the comments, that not everyone agrees.

If any keen golfers haven’t yet checked out GOLFmagic.com then they should do so when they have a chance. Edited by Bob Warters, who formerly edited Today’s Golfer, FORE! and Golf Weekly, it is a great mix of serious reviews, contentious debates and light-hearted meanders down golfing memory lane.

As if that’s not enough, Bob has also agreed – under no duress whatsoever – to let me submit regular feature articles to the site. What more could you ask?

Poults happy for second best – but is the media to blame for furore?

It seems I made a gross misjudgement about Ian Poulter in a previous post.

Following his now infamous interview with Golf World where he was quoted as saying he was the only player who, on his game, could compete with Tiger Woods, I actually gave him credit for being one of the few golfers with the self-confidence not to be happy playing for second place.

Thanfkully Poults has now clarified his position and claimed he was misquoted in the interview. Unfortunately, he is now adamant that he, along with every other golfer on the planet can only play for Woods’ leftovers.

As long as Woods is playing, Poulter claims, he can only ever play for second spot – which, he believes he is good enough to achieve.

Can you imagine if that had been David’s attitude when facing the mighty Goliath? The plucky youngster would have been beaten to a pulp, the Bible would have been a fable light and sporting commentators would have had to invent a new analogy for the triumphant underdog.

Golfing mortals (ie, everyone apart from Woods) should never allow themselves to believe that they cannot compete with him, let alone say it in public, even if it is the truth. I see no point whatsoever in teeing up in the same tournament with Woods if they have lost before even hitting a ball.

Poulter’s admission is yet another damning indictment of the professionals who are satisfied to make a living in Woods’ shadow without trying to tackle him head on in the spirit of sport.

However, the interview also flags up a worrying and deep-rooted trend in the media to string up (or lynch if I dare say the word) those who are prepared to speak their mind.

Too many sportsmen, not only golfers, are content to give the bland, run-of-the-mill stock answers to journalists’ questions. But is this because we are now breeding sportsmen completely lacking in personality, humour or charisma? Of course not. It is because they are petrified that if they open their mouths – even with tongue-in-cheek – then they can and will be crucified in the media for daring to have an opinion.

Of course, the media craves sensational headlines and will use the material it has to builds up as controversial a story as possible – and note, I admit that I have been guilty of this before. That’s what sells magazines and newspapers and certainly Golf World will have benefitted in the short term from the publicity this has caused.

However, the long term damage will be that no-one, not even Poulter will dare to stick their neck out and we will be left only with the monotone production-line sportsmen and journalists who have nothing to write about.

Who will buy the newspapers and magazines then?

Poulter’s hairspray goes to his head

Poor old Ian Poulter. Either he’s become delusional from sniffing the chemicals in his hair products or a tongue-in-cheek comment to make a dull magazine interview seem more interesting has gone badly wrong. 

 The English golfer – yes, the one with the funny trousers and the cockatiel hairdo – has been much derided for commenting in an interview with Golf World that he believes he is the only man who can compete with Tiger Woods.

“The trouble is I don’t rate anyone else. I haven’t played to my true potential yet. And when that happens it will just be me and Tiger.”

Self-confidence is an undoubted strength and a necessary trait for any top sportsman. Self-delusion on the other hand, is a terminal weakness and it is a fine line.

But I find it difficult to criticise Poulter for his comments. Chances are he was merely trying to liven up the traditional golf interview standard answers – I’m looking to force my way into the top 10/20/50 this year; I just need to play more consistently; I’m looking forward to the Ryder Cup but it will be much harder than previous years; There’s lots of great players out there and the standard is so high; I’m sure a Brit will win a Major again soon and so on and so forth.

I’m not sure how many more interviews I can stomach reading along those lines but one thing is for sure, as soon as I heard tongues wagging about Poulters interview, I was straight onto the Golf World website to find out  exactly why.

If the tongue-in-cheek angle was not what he was after, then surely Poulter’s worst crime is being a bit too vocal about his inner confidence. If he doesn’t believe that he can beat Woods then there’s surely no point in teeing up every week. Or, as Ricky Bobby eloquently put it in Talladega Nights: “If you ain’t first, you’re last!”

There are too many golfers out there who are happy to fight for Woods’ leftovers rather than tackling him head on. Granted, with just nine professional victories and a tame 9th as his best finish in a Major, Poulter is probably not the name on people’s minds when they think about a challenger to the world number one.

He is a good player, sometimes a very good player, of that there is no doubt but he is not the only one who on their day can mix it with Woods. The trouble is that no-one can do it consistently enough to be considered a threat.

In that sense, Poulter would have been better advised to keep his trap shut until his record merits such an audacious boast. However Poulter has never been one to mince his words.

I am delighted that someone has at least shown the belief, albeit a bit misguided, that they can take on the Tiger and if every professional thought the way Poulter does then Woods would not have such an easy time of it.

I sincerely hope Poulter retains his self belief and continues to brighten up the game of golf – with his dress sense and personality if nothing else. However, at some point he will have to deliver on his promises – starting at the Dubai Desert Classic this week would be a good idea – otherwise he will look very foolish indeed, and I’m not just talking about his hair.

If he continues to plod along at his current level, he will be well advised to apply his hairspray/mousse/gel/gum/wax (or whatever he uses to keep that hair standing so tall) in a well ventilated room, particularly before giving any interviews.

Tiger’s Grand Slam bid a good bet – well who’s going to stop him?

It would seem that every golf journalist, blogger, columnist, analyst, pundit and golf fan is talking about just how good Tiger Woods is and whether this is the year he will complete the Grand Slam of all four ‘Majors’.

To be fair, it is a debate that surfaces at the start of every year because the famed Grand Slam is about the only thing Woods hasn’t yet done in his career (Jack Nickaus’ record of 18 Majors will be broken in time).

Therefore, it would be an admirable editorial stand for this blog to take should it decide not to join the hysterical debate and instead focus on other sporting matters rather than wax lyrical about Woods. However, the man is just too damn good to ignore.

Please accept my apologies now for following the crowd and adding to the already vast expanse of column inches and bandwidth dedicated to the world’s number one golfer.

There is no disputing Woods’ dominance of a game which is supposed to be difficult to play. He is so far ahead of everyone in terms of world ranking points that he could probably take a two year sabbatical from the game and still top the ranking table.

And, unfortunately for his “competitors” who are already failing to keep pace with him, Woods believes he is still improving as a golfer and says he can complete the Grand Slam this year – see BBC article here.

With most other sporting professionals you could blow that off as a player simply wanting to appear confident and gain a psychological advantage over his rivals. The hard truth is that Woods already has that advantage even before he steps onto the first tee and when he says it, you know it is because he believes it.

The statistics are also firmly in his favour. He has won the last four tournaments he has entered, including a seven week lay-off for Christmas, and since 2006 he has finished on top in 16 of the 32 PGA Tour competitions he has started. That’s an incredible 50 per cent success rate.

His most recent victory at the Buick Invitational, eight strokes ahead of his nearest rival, was his fourth in a row at the Torrey Pines course – the venue for this year’s US Open.

Of the other three ‘Majors’ he has already won five times at Augusta in the Masters and finished 3rd at Royal Birkdale, a course which is well-suited to his game, when The Open was last held there in 1998. If he finds himself teeing off in the USPGA at Oakland Hills in August with three of the four big ones already under his belt then he is not the kind of man who is likely to let that opportunity slip by.

The remarkable thing about seeing Woods play is that if you were to watch his 1st, 2nd and 4th rounds of the majority of tournaments he plays in, he would probably seem like just a really good golfer.

However, he seems to reserve one round – usually his 3rd – where his simply annhiliates both the course and the opposition. In short, Woods’ gameplan seems to be to keep pace with the leaders (if his ‘safe’ play isn’t already setting the pace) in the first two rounds, post a score in the 3rd and then protect his lead in the 4th, confident that he can step it up on the run home if he needs to.

It would tremendous if there were someone out there ready to consistently challenge Woods and set up some thrilling 4th round finales that would force him to play more than one round every tournament. I have already posted on the fact that I see Adam Scott and Justin Rose as two men who should be looking to shorten the gap.

We are undoubtedly missing the duels of old ala Jack Nicklaus v Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus v Tom Watson. Woods has never had a consistent challenger. Without a threat coming from his colleagues, Woods’ biggest challenges are the courses he plays and the records he attempts to break.

To that end it is Woods v 18 Majors and Woods v The Grand Slam and, as we know, Woods inevitably comes out on top.

As someone who admires the man as a sportsman and dedicated professional, I would love to see him do it- I’d just like someone to put him under a bit of pressure while he is at it.

Is Scott ready to tame the Tiger?

Anyone following the weekend’s golfing action and the subsequent media coverage could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a time warp taking them back a few years.

The Buick Invitational in San Diego saw Tiger Woods continue to dominate the sport, leaving others trailing in his wake and scratching their heads trying to come up with a plan to at least keep pace with the one-man birdie-machine. Nothing new there then.

While over on the European Tour in the Qatar Masters we were tantalised once again that Adam Scott, a man with the undoubted ability to challenge Woods, might now be ready to make the move from precocious talent to genuine golfing greatness. His final round of 61 was nothing short of magical and rivals anything I can remember seeing Woods accomplish in a final round (third rounds not inlcuded!)

But we have been here before. Since Scott burst onto the scene by winning the Dunhill Championship in South Africa in 2001, people have been touting him as the natural successor – or at least challenger – to Woods’crown.

His promise has, however, failed to fully materialise as yet and he has shown what he is capable of only in fleeting glimpses. That talent has brought him 13 professional tour wins and a regular place in the world’s top 10. However, his best year in the ‘Majors’ came in 2006 when he finished third, eighth and 21st in the US Open, The Open and the USPGA respectively. That, for Woods, would constitute an extremely poor year.

Scott is not alone. Others have threatened to move out of golf’s second tier and drag themselves closer to Woods but it has always been a short-lived affair. Justin Rose and, perhaps ludicrously, Rory McIlroy are the latest to be touted as having the ability to challenge Woods and the former should be considered as one of the main contenders.

Certainly Scott and Rose are two of the ones you would look at with both ability and age on their side to look to close that gap but they now have to step up to the plate and fulfil that potential. Scott’s final round in Qatar shows what he can do, even under pressure while Rose’s performances last year indicates that he has the mental strength needed to continually perform at a high level.

Whether they can dominate consistently when Woods’ is not in the field and challenge him when he is remains to be seen.

As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. Woods oozes class.

Golf Industry Blossoms at Azalea

In a previous post I touched on the fact that I spent last week working in the rolling countryside of Hampshire – just minutes from the scene of Havant & Waterlooville’s remarkable FA Cup triumph against Swansea.

But it wasn’t the chance of an historic cup upset that enticed me to spend a week so far from God’s Country (sunny Scotland). It was the chance to do some work with the living legend that is Pete Richardson – the golf industry’s answer to Max Clifford.

Pete will be known to most in the Scottish media as the smooth-talking Yorkshire lad who worked his way from Crime Reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post to Deputy News Editor (I believe that was his title although I’m sure he will correct me if I’m wrong) at the Daily Record in Glasgow – which at the time was the UK’s fourth biggest tabloid in terms of circulation.

He eventually landed at Daily Record HQ via shifts at all the main national newspapers and landed his seat on the newsdesk after a series of gritty and hard-hitting exclusives as a reporter for the paper. I’m sure he remains the only employee ever to have had his leaving party (two of them in fact) sponsored by a brewery.

It’s safe to say that Pete has learned his craft at the hard end – which his series of front page exclusives and spreads adorning the walls of his office show – so he can be forgiven for making the switch to the altogether more relaxed world of golf marketing.

The transition couldn’t have gone any better and Pete now runs The Azalea Group, a company specialising in intelligent golf marketing. I have never asked him but I presume the name “Azalea” is taken from the hole of the same name at Augusta, home of the US Masters, and the fact that the flower is prevalent at the US home of golf.

That aside, it’s a safe bet that if you read or hear something about golf in the national, local or specialist press, then it has passed over the desk’s of The Azalea Group at some point along the way.

The company is as slick as it gets and filled with talented people brimming with enthusiasm, ideas and, most of all, a sense of fun. All of which is hardly surprising if you know Pete.

First up is Dave Bowers, as experienced a sports hack as you are likely to find. His cantankerous and curmudgeonly exterior is merely a smokescreen to hide his true qualities. He is a smooth operator (he tells me he can find anything on his desk among the piles of clutter and I believe him), a skilled writer and although he will have you believe otherwise, a thoroughly decent guy into the bargain.

His young prodigy and right-hand man in the writing stakes is Lee Todd, who is as comfortable producing incisive and hard-hitting articles as he is gladhanding it with the most high profile of golfing afficionados. I’m told he is also a top darts player but, for fear of being soundly embarrassed at the oche, I hope to never find out if that is true.

Henry Alliss returned to Azalea the day I arrived following a two week break in Kenya – during the height of the recent troubles. Unfazed, he promptly announced that he was completely unaware of the sensitive political situation in the country but did wonder why the streets were lined with riot police at every corner. I suspect the Pulitzer Prize won’t be winging it’s way to Henry in the near future.

Aside from his adventures, the marketing expert has charm and charisma in abundance – qualities which never fail to impress in his industry. Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less, given that Henry is the son of golfing and commentating legend Peter Alliss, whose soothing tones help make Sunday afternoon watching the final round of the Open such a magical experience. He did manage to smash a glass during an office reconfiguration during the week but he can be forgiven for that – usually he would just get the houseboy to do it for him.

Sally Bull, as office manager, is the heartbeat of the operation without whom it would all just fall to pieces – or so she tells me.

I also briefly met Roger Wolfe and his alter ego Little Roger Wool (think Dr Evil and Mini-Me). Roger was only in the office for one day while I was there before he jetted out to Orlando “on business” but struck me as another top professional. Never let anyone in the golf industry tell you it is hard work!

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable week working in such prestigious company and, having seen them in action, I have no doubt that Azalea will continue to blossom under Pete.

Thanks to all at Azalea.