Sunday, September 16, 2012

Paper Tiger by Tom Coyne

  Paper Tiger: An Obsessed Golfer's Quest to Play with the Pros by Tom Coyne is one of the most enjoyable, inspiring, and depressing golf books you will ever read.  

Coyne is roughly the same age as Tiger Woods (and me, by the way), and he wanted to know if devoting his life to golf for a year would allow him to make the PGA Tour.  To play with the Big Boys.  How hard could it really be?  So, in the fall of 2003, 
Coyne quit his job, moved to Florida, hired a golf coach and a sports psychologist, and spent all day, every day, for a year, working on his game.  It is the dream of all weekend golfers chained to their desks.  He spent hours on the range, lost weight, fixed his slice, and started making perfect divots.  You will have to read the book to learn whether he made it through Q School or not, but I can tell you, it is an amazing ride!

My favorite passage starts on page 51 of the hardcover edition:  "The ladder I am attempting to climb this year is surely a long one, with rungs separated by almost impossible distances, the bottom of which is much more crowded than the spots at the top."

Coyne then goes on to describe a "golf-greatness pyramid."  The bottom rung contains The Best Player You Know.  "And here's the news about the Best Players You Know:  They're shit.  Scratch is shit.  The Best Players You Know simply cannot play."  Think about that for a minute.  Think about all the people you know that you would happily trade golf swings with.  Colleagues, college friends, guys at your country club, players with silky-smooth swings.  Think about never slicing a drive into the woods; think about getting out of the sand trap on the first swing.  Think about dreaming of reaching scratch.  Then realize how far down the golf ladder scratch players really are.

Club Pros are next on the pyramid.  These are the guys we take lessons from.  They may have once dreamed of making a living on tour, but they are now chained to the clubhouse.  I have played a round with my golf teacher; he is in his late 40s, and I can only dream of hitting the ball like him.  Every time I ask him about replacing one of my clubs, he picks it up, hits a beautiful, straight shot well beyond where I was hitting it.  And as he hands it back to me, he asks, "What is wrong with this club?"  But the truth is:  he never plays anymore, so he cannot really go low.

Then there are the Stud Amateurs: the golfers who compete in the USGA's amateur events each year.  One of my golfing goals is to some day play in one of the USGA's amateur qualifying tournaments, like the Mid-Amateur.  But that is years away.  In order to apply to play in the USGA Mid-Amateur tournament, for example, you must have a handicap index of 3.4.  And that is just to fill out the application to be eligible to play in the qualifying events!  And the stud college kids under the age of 25 are not allowed in the mid-amateur.  Imagine actually playing on the last day of such an event.  In his article "How Low Can You Go?" in the June 2011 issue of Golf Digest (republished on Golf Digest Canada's website), Max Adler explores this same subject.  He quotes Butch Harmon:  "A good amateur's handicap is based on traveling to different courses and competing.  If you're not shooting four or five under ever time you tee it up at your home course, where you know every little break, then you're no good."  Four or five under par!  I just want to shot par 
— once.

Next are the Attached Club Pros.  They are hired by country clubs just so the members can watch them on the driving range and follow them at tournaments.  They actually win the USGA's amateur tournaments.  

Mini-Tour Philanthropists are above the Attached Club Pros on the pyramid.  These are the kids who played college golf but are not ready to join the real work world.  They play in the Hooters Tour, the Gateway Tour, the Pepsi Tour, and others.  But they rarely win.  Their parents and friends are helping them pay their way.  They are simply donating their entry fee each weekend, hoping to find their swing.

The Mini-Tour Grinders take the money from the Mini-Tour Philanthropists.  They actually make money playing golf.  As Coyne says, this is "where the pyramid moves out of the red and into the black."  These players travel the world searching for a payday.  But how many golfers dream of playing on the Asian or Australian tours?

Then come the Nationwide Earners (now the Tour Earners), professionals with a steady, set schedule.  If you live in the Dallas area and you want to know how good these guys are, drive up to the TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney during October 25-28, 2012, for the Tour Championship.  These guys are on TV, albeit the Golf Network on cable.  But they have sponsors and can realistically dream of catching a break to play in PGA Tour events.

PGA Tour Survivors are next.  They are the guys that earn their tour card the hard way.  Want to know more about PGA Tour Survivors?  Then read Tales from Q School: Inside Golf's Fifth Major by John Feinstein, which is also an excellent book.  These guys do not automatically receive a tour card; they have to qualify again each year. But they can still make six figures based on sponsorships and a few good weekends.  As of this post, the 126th player on tour had winnings of 
$586,758.  But he will not receive a free invitation back to the PGA Tour next year!

PGA Tour Players are the ones who keep their playing card.  They make better livings than most Americans, but how many names do you know on the PGA Tour's money list between 50 and 125?  Not many.

PGA Tour Superstars are at the top.  You don't just know their names, you know their first names:  Tiger, Phil, Rory, Bubba, Hunter, Zach.  Once you reach single-name recognition, you know you have arrived.

Coyne concludes:  "Most people don't consider the bulging pyramid of golf talent.  They know nothing of how much good golf is really out there.  The scratch players at your club—they are, by any statistical analysis, great golfers, top-tier, 1 percent players.  And yet, the Club Pro and the Stud Amateur and the Attached Pro, they could dispatch The Best Player You Know using persimmon woods and a guttie.  And none of them are quite as battle-hardened as the Mini-Tour Philanthropists who are already making hefty donations to the Grinders, and the Grinders don't even dream about the steady life of the Nationwide Earner, who would still ask a PGA Tour Survivor for their autograph.  All of them would stand in line to shake hands with a PGA Tour Player.  And as for the Superstars up in the stratosphere looking down on all of it?  They should amend those ads on TV — These guys are good.  How good? You've got no f@&#ing idea."

Great insight!  I highly recommend Paper Tiger

Also by Tom Coyne:

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Cedar Crest Golf Course

No golf course in the Dallas area is more historic than Cedar Crest.  Prior to 1927, neither the U.S. Open nor the PGA Championship had been played outside of the Northeast or the Midwest.  The South and West had yet to host a major championship.  A Dallas banker named Sol Dreyfuss set out to change that.  He offered a $12,000 purse, the richest prize to date for a golf tournament, to make his home club in Dallas, Texas the stage for the 1927 PGA Championship.  But more than money attracted the sport’s best golfers to Dallas; Cedar Crest Country Club was “considered by golf architects and critics [as] one of the most difficult links in the South,” according to the New York Times.  

Cedar Crest was designed by A.W. Tillinghast in 1919.  The list of Tillinghast-designed courses is impressive:  Winged Foot - West & East Courses; San Francisco Golf Club; Bethpage - Black Course; Baltusrol - Upper & Lower Courses; and Quaker Ridge.  This is just a sampling of his most famous courses.

A strong field came to Dallas for the 1927 tournament, including Gene Sarazen, Tommy Armour, Johnny Farrell, Joe Turnesa, Al Espinosa, Bobby Cruickshank, and Sir Walter Hagen.  The format for the 1927 PGA started with a 36-hole stroke-play event on Tuesday, narrowing the field to thirty-two golfers.  Then five rounds of 36-hole match play would crown a champion.  Sir Walter Hagen claimed the prize.  With the win, he became the first and only player in history to win four consecutive PGA Championships.  No other player has won more than two in a row.  This was his fifth and final PGA Championship victory.  His share of the purse was $2,000, and Hagen asked to be paid in the clubhouse basement because two men were waiting upstairs to confiscate the money to pay back alimony.  Sol Dreyfuss obliged, and Hagen made it out of town with the cash.  

Cedar Crest Country Club fell on hard times after the stock-market crash, and it soon closed.  It was subsequently purchased by the City of Dallas in 1946.  The old clubhouse was torn down and many bunkers were filled in.  But then, after the turn of the new century, things began to change.  A new $2 million clubhouse was built in 2001, and the course was reworked by D.A. Weibring in 2004.  The $3 million renovation brought much of the original character back to the course.  Although the routing was changed, Tillinghast’s distinctive bunkers once again guard many of the greens.  

Hole #1:  The course opens with the longest hole, a 602 yard par 5 that curves gently to the right.  The entire course is lined with trees, and the first hole starts with a few scattered trees on the left side of the fairway and a large grove on the right.  The green is very small and slightly elevated, with a deep bunker to the front right.  This hole is the first in a pattern for the course:  a small, elevated green surrounded by deep bunkers.  Cedar Crest is not a flashy course, but it is beautiful in a subdued, elegant way. 
Tee shot - 602 yard par 5 1st hole - Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Green - 1st hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #2:  The second hole is one of the best on the course.  A very short, 356 yard par 4, with a sharp right-hand turn halfway to the green.  The fairway sits on a shelf.  The rough slopes slightly up to the left of the fairway, but it has a steep drop to the right.  Nevertheless, there is grass on the lower level to the right of the fairway, so an errant slice is still playable.  Again, the green is very small and elevated.  There are no bunkers greenside, but rather large mounds surround the green on all sides.  Even one bad shot on this hole can spell trouble.  I could play this hole over and over again without getting bored. 
Tee shot - 356 yard par 4 2nd hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Looking up at the 2nd hole green.  Miss the fairway to the right, and this will be your second shot.
Hole #3:  The first par-3 hole of the course is number three.  It is a straight hole with water to the left and trees to the right.  A small bunker also sits to the left of the green.  

Tee shot - 202 yard par 3 3rd hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.

Hole #4:  The fourth hole is the longest par 4 on the course.  It also has one of the widest fairways.  There are trees on the left and the pond that runs beside the third hole to the right.  The hole doglegs right, and it is easy to hit your drive through the fairway.  But unless the ball lands behind one of the few large trees that sit at the curve in the fairway, hitting long is not a major problem on this hole.  As is the norm, the fourth green is elevated, with no bunkers but large mounds waiting to absorb errant shots.

One of the most amazing stories in the history of golf played out on this hole during the 1927 PGA Championship.  On Saturday, during Hagen's semifinal match against Al Espinosa, the late-day sun began to come into play.  The galleries in those days were not held back by ropes like in modern golf tournaments.  A young 15-year old from Fort Worth had been following Hagen all day.  On what was then the 13th hole, but is now the 4th, Hagen was squinting particularly hard at the green as he prepared to hit his approach shot.  The young admirer asked, “Would you like to borrow my cap?”  The hat was a baseball cap with a school logo on the bill.  Hagen almost never wore a hat on the course, but gladly accepted the offer.  He cocked the cap precariously on his large head, shading his right eye from the sun.  At one point, he almost dropped the hat on his ball, giving the crowd a laugh.  But with the aid of the sun shield, Hagen hit his ball to within eight feet of the hole.  He sank the putt, tying the match.  He handed the cap back to the beaming fan — a young Byron Nelson. 

If you blast through the fairway, this will be your second shot on the 463 yard par-4 4th hole.

Hole #5:  The fifth hole looks longer than it really is because it dips down before raising up to the green on top of the hill.   The tee shot is downhill, but the approach shot is back uphill.  There is a small, dry creek bed that runs through the trees to the right of the fairway at the bottom of the hill.  Two bunkers guard the green, one on each side.  

Green - 382 yard par 4 5th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #6:  A 185-yard par 3, the sixth hole plays uphill to yet another evaluated green.  A pot bunker sits to the left of the green, with large grass mounds to the right.

Green - 185 yard par 3 6th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #7:  The seventh hole is a par 5, 547-yard hole, with a blind tee shot.  You know you are not in Scotland when the sign beside the tee box reads, “aim at the power pole” to land in the fairway.  The fairway climbs uphill, with scattered trees on both sides of the fairway.  A green, metal gazebo to the left of the fairway displays a sign proclaiming, “Site of the 1927 PGA."  The green is guarded by three bunkers.

Fairway of the 547 yard par 5 7th hole, with the clubhouse in the background.
Hole #8:  The eighth and ninth holes are set behind the clubhouse.  The eighth is a very short, but extremely challenging, par 4.  At only 312 yards, it is the shortest par 4 on the course.  There is a bunker on the left side of the fairway, 200 yards from the tee, and the fairway drops away at 225 yards to a deep creek.  The green sits below the fairway on the far side of the creek.  A tee shot to the right will be blocked by trees.  The landing area for the tee shot is very small; the green is even smaller.

Tee shot - 312 yard par 4 8th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #9:  The ninth hole actually has a large green, one of the few at Cedar Crest.  A 178-yard par 3, the spacious green has one bunker on the left.  The tee shot plays back across the creek guarding the eighth green, but it is not really in play.  The ninth is a nice hole to make the turn on — you certainly don’t want to head to the clubhouse to forget about your score.  

Green - 178 yard par 4 9th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #10:  As with the first hole, the back nine opens with a par 5.  The tenth is not as long as the first, only 476 yards, but a creek in front of the green can spoil a poorly played second or third shot.  If you avoid the creek, two bunkers must be navigated around the green.  Both bunkers are deep and winding, and if the flag is placed forward, they make for an extremely challenging up and down. 

Fairway & green - 476 yard par 5 10th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #11:  The eleventh hole is the longest of the par 3s at 210 yards.  But it is straight and not particularly challenging. 

Tee shot - 210 yard par 3 11th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #12:  The twelfth hole is another short par 4.  At only 334 yards, some long hitters may think they can drive the green by cutting across the trees on the left-hand side of the fairway.  Two fairway bunkers sit on the right side, and two more bunkers are greenside. 

Hole #13:  The thirteenth hole is straight and, for Cedar Crest, long.  The 404 yard par 4 plays downhill.  A small bunker sits to the left of the green. 

Green - 404 yard par 4 13th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #14:  The fourteenth hole is a fun par 5.  It is listed as 542 yards, but it sharply bends to the right at around 100 yards from the green.  If your approach shot lands in the right place, you can cut the corner between the trees, cutting off considerable distance on this hole.  But such an unorthodox shot to the green must not only avoid the trees but also the two green-side bunkers, one of which is positioned just to catch balls hit short through the trees.  Deciding how to play the fourteenth is an exercise in risk-reward. 

Green - 542 yard par 5 14th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.

Hole #15:  The fifteenth hole is unremarkable except for the view of downtown Dallas to the right of the green.  It is a 207 yard par 3 that plays downhill, with bunkers on each side of the green. 

Green - 207 yard par 3 15th hole, with downtown Dallas peaking over the trees Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #16:  The three finishing holes at Cedar Crest are wonderful.  The sixteenth is another one of my favorites.  The last of the par 5s, it is 534 yards long, with small trees down the right side of the fairway.  A deep fairway bunker will collect slices – this is a hole best played to the left-hand side.  The green is long and narrow, with two very large trees shading it.  One tree is to the right-front of the green, with the other to the left-back.  The green actually winds between them.  It is an amazing hole! 

Green - 534 yard par 5 16th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #17:  Seventeen is a par 3 that plays first down and then uphill.  It is the shortest hole on the course, but it is tightly lined with trees.  As one commentator remarked, “Hitting the green on the par-3 17th hole is like kicking a field goal between two trees.”  Texans think of football even on the golf course!  But it is a beautiful hole. 

Tee shot - 192 yard par 3 17th hole Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Hole #18:  The eighteenth is a par 4, dog-leg right, with a more pronounced curve from the silver tees.  The tee shot is blind, but the new stone clubhouse sits just behind the green, making for a picturesque walk up the final fairway.  Several fairway bunkers enhance the view, and two of Tillinghast’s signature bunkers make you think carefully about approaching the green. 

Green - 406 yard par 4 18th hole, with the clubhouse in the background Cedar Crest Golf Course.
Cedar Crest just feels like an old course.  It is easy to image Walter Hagen or Gene Sarazen maneuvering around the greens.  Cedar Crest is what many call a “shot-maker’s course” — because it is so short, only 6,532 yards, some might think it is easy.  It is not.  Unless they are extremely accurate with the drivers, long hitters would be well advised to opt for irons off many of the tee boxes.  A well-played shot receives more reward that a long shot on this course.  I can only imagine how difficult it was before modern golf equipment.  In 1927, it must have been a truly challenging course for even the best players in the world. 

Cedar Crest is also one of the best deals in Dallas.  The highest rate with a cart is only $43, and if you are willing to walk on a weekday, you will only pay $24!  


Course Rating, Slope, and Yardage

Location:  1800 Southerland Avenue, Dallas, Texas  75202
Phone:  214-670-7615

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