Monday, February 27, 2012

Texan Holds ‘Em: Stanford’s HSBC Champions Win Ends 14-year American LPGA drought

Angela Stanford ended a wait of fourteen years and four months for an American victory in a LPGA golf event in Asia when she won a four-player play-off at the HSBC Women’s Champions at Singapore’s Tanah Merah Country Club. Tim Maitland reports.

 Stanford won with a par on the third play-off hole, finally knocking Korean teenager Jenny Shin out of the reckoning after Korea’s world number two Na Yeon Choi and China’s Shanshan Feng had been eliminated in two previous trips up the tough 18th hole. All four had finished on 10-under-par 278 for the tournament.

SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 26:  Angela Stanford of the USA with the winners trophy after the final round of the HSBC Women's Champions at the Tanah Merah Country Club on February 26, 2012 in Singapore.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Amazingly, the last victory for a US player in the LPGA’s long history of staging tournaments in Asia was Juli Inkster’s win at the Samsung World Championship of Women’s Golf, from an invitational field of sixteen LPGA players, in Seoul, South Korea in October 1997. The 2012 HSBC Women’s Champions was the 39th event in the region since then.

Of the six Asian events on the LPGA’s 2012 schedule, the last to boast an American champion was the Mizuno Classic in Japan which was won by Betsy King in 1993 when it was known as the Toray Japan Queens Cup. King’s win, at the Lions Country Club in Hyogo, was the last US victory against a larger field, over 18 years ago.

“I’m the first American to win in Singapore. That’s pretty cool!” said the thirty-four-year-old Texan, unaware at the time of how long her compatriots’ drought stretched back.

“It’s funny; sitting at the Pro-Am party (on the Wednesday before the tournament) I was thinking we haven’t had an American win this thing yet. Honestly, I thought, well, I’m an American. Might as well give it a go!”

Stanford, whose last win was in 2009, didn’t do it the easy way; only converting the fourth of the putts she had to win the tournament. The cruelest of those was in regulation play after a violent thunderstorm struck with the final group on the 18th tee and all their rivals safely in the clubhouse. After a 90-minute delay, play resumed with nineteen-year-old Shin leading Stanford by one shot, but the young Korean found a water hazard off the tee and made double bogey, while Stanford’s first chance for victory went begging when she missed a par putt from around five feet.

Making pars throughout the play-off, Stanford adds her name to a roll of honour that consisted only of players to have been rated the best in the world game, from defending champion Karrie Webb through Ai Miyazato and Jiyai Shin to the winner of the inaugural event in 2008, Lorena Ochoa.

“I feel extremely honoured to be in that group of players and to be the first American to get a win is pretty special. Everybody knows this is one of the premier events on tour and always has the best players,” Stanford said.

For Shin, who won the US Girls Junior Championship as a thirteen-year old in 2006, there was the whole range of emotions.

“It’s a little bit of everything; I’m very excited but I’m very disappointed at the same time. The tee shot on the eighteenth was all from nervousness. In the play-off I wasn’t nervous at all. I was really comfortable in the play-off. I really feel like I can do this again. I’m very surprised about how well I did. I’m happy… kind of: happy-sad. I’m accepting it,” she revealed.

Shin’s wasn’t the only hard luck story. China’s Shanshan Feng fell a fraction short of becoming the first player from her country to win an LPGA event, the third time in her short career that she has had to settle for second place.

Current world number one Yani Tseng of Chinese Taipei, who was Jenny Shin’s main challenger for much of the day, finished one shot back in fifth place. She might have won had her approach shot to the 17th hole gone in for eagle rather than catching the lip of the hole as it span back, leaving her a birdie putt that she missed.

“I do feel disappointed. I just needed a little more luck. I‘ve been very close for two years. Hopefully next year I won’t be disappointed,” said Tseng, who was aiming for back-to-back wins after her victory at the Honda LPGA Thailand the week before.

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Read about "China Golf Firsts"


SINGAPORE - FEBRUARY 22:  (L to R) In Kyung Kim of Korea, Michelle Wie of the USA, Morgan Pressel of the USA, Yani Tseng of Taiwan, Beatriz Recari of Spain, Melissa Reid of England, Suzann Pettersen of Norway, Se Ri Pak of Korea, Paula Creamer of the USA and Natalie Gulbis of the USA during a Welcome Reception Photo Call at the Raffles Hotel prior to the start of the HSBC Women's Champions at the Tanah Merah Country Club on February 22, 2012 in Singapore, Singapore  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship all about Tiger Woods

This week's WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships media conference call with NBC Sports/Golf Channel confirmed that Tiger Woods is still the main attraction when he comes to play in any golf event. His putter may be cold, his demeanor may be disconsolate but when Tiger is in the field, expect golf fans to come out in droves to cheer him on and watch him swing.



Sir Nick Faldo, Johnny Miller, Brandel Chamblee and Dan Hicks couldn't stop talking Tiger, whether it was about his putter, his health and whether or not he will ever learn how to win again. Most other golfer comments appeared to be filler if they had nothing to do with the former world's number-one player.


I can't say that I blame these four announcers for making Woods the only topic of discussion; Tiger makes for good conversation. He has gone beyond the scope of the sport and, whether or not you are a golf fan, chances are you know who he is and have followed his life and game in some way.


The grueling WGC-Accenture match play format will certainly test the mettle of all sixty-four players in the field but the one's who will thrive will be the most accurate putters. Johnny Miller stated, "every single time, you have to have sort of the right mettle to be able to make that five or six footer to halve the hole or win the hole.  That's why usually the really good putters do well in the Match Play."


Tiger Woods' putter has been cold at best in his last few events, most recently at Pebble Beach during the AT&T, where a final missed putt on the eighteenth green proved that Woods needs to work more on his short game.


Brandel Chamblee said that Woods has gotten "too mechanical".  "When you see someone go from putting stroke picture to talking about a release point on a putter, which I'm not even sure I know what that means, that tells me that they have become mechanical in the whole process."


Will Tiger Woods win again? According to Nick Faldo, yes, "but the bottom line is trust, or self belief, self confidence in your ability."


Johnny Miller countered. "The more tournaments that he's sniffing on the lead and doesn't pull off, the more scar tissue you get, and you know, the tougher it is to make those putts."


Although I'm hoping for a good showing from Tiger Woods due to his previous record at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championships, he still is beatable as first round opponent, Gonzalo Fernandez Castano, confirmed in his pre-round interview. As long as players see him as beatable, Woods will not be a true threat until he starts to win with regularity once again.


Get your fill of golf television all this week. Catch the WGC-Accenture World Match Play Championships on Golf Channel and on NBC Sports. Check your local listings.


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Friday, February 17, 2012

Did Carnival make a Norwegian cruise ship look old?

Tasteless food, very small staterooms and limited late night entertainment during a recent cruise aboard the Norwegian Gem were a few observations which encouraged comparisons with experiences onboard previous Carnival Fun Ship sailings.


Our twentieth anniversary sailing on the NCL Gem was our tenth cruise to date: two sailings aboard Royal Caribbean ships, two with Norwegian (Dreamward and Gem included) and six with Carnival cruise lines. Although beautiful, quality within was less-than-stellar aboard the Gem.




The Norwegian Gem is a nicely sized (93k ton), stately cruise ship which reminded me of an old ocean liner. Although public spaces aboard the Gem are elegant compared to Carnival’s older ships, (known mainly for Farkas’ designs of whimsy such as on the Liberty), newer sailing vessels such as the Dream and Victory have a less "in-your-face" color scheme.


A two-story atrium with a huge movie screen features restful nature scenes on the NCL Gem: peaceful background music is piped in until midnight. The scene reminded me a bit of the movie “Soylent Green” and I fell prey to lazing and gazing at short videos of the Panama Canal and water eruptions in Oahu with Barry and many of the older folks. Carnival, in contrast, has large outdoor screens, lounge chairs and blankets set up for midnight movies (popcorn at the ready).


Norwegian Gem atrium


Promptly at midnight the NCL Gem screen shut down leaving a blank wall and a deafening silence in the main hall. Carnival ships atriums, in comparison, are ten stories high with lively music and people milling about until all hours of the night. There is limited late night entertainment on board the NCL Gem and most people disappeared to their rooms. For those (like us) who were dirty stay-outs, Bliss and Spinnaker lounges are located on either end of the ship.


Bingo in the Spinnaker Lounge


Although staterooms on almost every cruise line are known to have space constraints, there is a noticeable size discrepancy aboard the Norwegian Gem. Tight quarters force closeness and remind me of older ships but, in Norwegian’s defense, there are sliding doors in the bathroom to offer some modicum of privacy.


Food aboard the Norwegian Gem was, for the most part, bland and tasteless and the Garden Café closed promptly at 11 pm. There is all-night service in the atrium but, in order to get a slice of pizza, for example, it has to be ordered through room service at an additional charge.


Speaking of additional charges, Norwegian Cruise Lines claims the benefits of “Freestyle Cruising” on its website which states, “a wide range of dining options all included in your cruise price, and all available on your schedule.”


This statement is incorrect. There were ten other restaurants on board the Norwegian Gem and each one charged an additional fee in order to dine there, from $10 to upwards of $25 at Cagney’s Steak House (even more if you wanted extras such as lobster served with your steak.) Was NCL saving the more tasty food for the people who paid extra? Did all food taste equally as bland?  BAD IDEA on all levels NORWEGIAN!


As for dining being on “our schedule”, this could not be further from the truth unless, again, you paid extra for the privilege. It's true that he buffet is available but, if you want to be served in one of the two dining rooms, you have to choose either the 5:30 or 8:30 times and you have to reserve your table well in advance or you will wait up to forty-five minutes for your dreaded “beeper" to vibrate.


On Carnival cruise ships upon which we sailed, we had a table for two reserved for us every night, there is fun (yet silly) entertainment in the dining room and the food was tasty and plentiful with the desserts taking center stage.


Pool, waterslides, entertainment? The live bands are terrific on both NCL and Carnival but CCL takes the cake with its double waterslide aboard the Dream.




Golf? Norwegian and Carnival cruise ships each have golf-related activities. Carnival cruises have fun nine-hole putting greens located on top on the ship but, when the wind is blowing, chances are you will opt-out. The Norwegian Gem has two nets with bulls-eye targets located on the upper deck. The golf clubs were old but functional and we hit a few golf balls every day. My target shots were getting deadly by the end of the cruise and no, I didn’t have to hit right-handed; there were left-handed clubs aboard.


HIDDEN CHARGES: In addition to extra fees for many of the restaurants on Norwegian Gem (everything is included aboard the Carnival cruises), Norwegian also adds a service charge of $12 per person per day to your bill. This can get quite costly. I only found out about this add-on when searching for information about the Gem on the internet …after I booked the cruise. I contacted my agent who then came clean and told me that I can have the charges removed onboard the last day of the cruise and individually tip as we saw fit to do.


More hidden charges? An automatic 15% gratuity is added to all drinks ordered which, in my opinion, hurts the servers as much as the cruisers.


Perhaps NCL thinks that travelers won't put up a big fuss over these surprise hidden fees but...NOTE TO NORWEGIAN GEM: Travelers don’t like hidden fees, tasteless food and exclusion from many of the onboard dining options. Additional charges to eat in the "upscale" dining rooms shows in the lack of attention paid to the food in the main dining areas.


YES, we did have a great time! Will we take another cruise on Norwegian? Although the ship is beautiful on the outside, the executives within Norwegian should probably sail aboard Carnival and take with them the positives to include aboard their own fleet.


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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Phil Mickelson mentally superior to Tiger Woods at Pebble Beach

As Phil Mickelson walked up to the eighteenth green alongside of Tiger Woods on Pebble Beach golf course on Sunday, it was easy to see who was in control of his emotions and more "inspired" by his circumstances and who was going through the motions, allowing his mental game to weaken with every missed shot.

Did Phil's ear-to-ear grin striding down the fairway belie an air of smugness? Mickelson could have shown a bit of haughtiness, chin high, blowing off Tiger as a mere afterthought. Lefty has “beaten” Woods straight up the last five times they have been paired together in the final round of golf events and the once ferocious Tiger hardly had any bite in his game.
No, that is simply not Phil. Instead, Mickelson remained gracious and maintained, “I don't believe anybody has benefited more from what he's done (Woods) for the game than myself.”
Not only did he handily win the ATT, Mickelson did so with a score of 64 and with Woods stumbling on a final three-footer. Phil’s expression when Tiger missed the putt? He looked a bit downhearted, like he really wanted Woods to succeed. Phil wants to beat Tiger with Woods at his best, not during his lowest moments.

Perhaps Phil needs to offer Tiger insights into his current mental strategy for staying in the game as the same malady seems to be affecting Woods on those short putts. "I've been a little bit lazy mentally," Mickelson said, "so it was a real effort for me to stay focused on every single shot and to not let my mind slip or wander or be lazy."

That being said, I would like to eat my words <chomp, chomp> from a blog I wrote a few weeks ago in which I considered that Phil Mickelson may be washed up (both physically and mentally) for the PGA Tour. Although I still believe that Mickelson is entering into “comfortable” events, it’s certainly not wrong to do so and will probably even increase his resolve and confidence in events. Also, his physical ailments didn't appear to bother him. Enbrel for his psoriatric arthritis must be working...

I heartily congratulate Mickelson on his 40th victory (now ninth in all-time wins) on the PGA Tour and wish him the best of luck this week at the Northern Trust Open, an event he won in 1991 as an amateur (Telecom Open) and back to back again during the 2008/2009 seasons. I am rooting for Lefty in my weekly Twitter fantasy pool. Last week, my choice of Tiger Woods to win the ATT did not turn out favorably but I think I’m making the right choice this week. I will still be cheering on Tiger Woods too (no, I am not hedging my bet...)

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Friday, February 10, 2012

Tiger Woods ready to win at least three golf tournaments in 2012?

Tiger Woods kicks off his 2012 PGA Tour season this week at The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Woods has been working hard on a new swing with coach Sean Foley and his mental game is also looking sharp, leading one expert to predict that Tiger will win at least three times on tour this year.


Tiger Woods, SpyGlass Hill Golf Course, Round One


Steve Siebold, a former professional athlete (tennis player), mental toughness coach and author of the book 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of The World Class, has worked with athletes for twenty-seven years and has been pointing to a Tiger Woods comeback all along, but based on what’s he’s seeing now he believes this is the year of the Tiger.

Here’s why:

·   Tiger Woods' talent never left him; it was his confidence that disappeared. Now that he knows how to win again, he’s not going to stop. Tiger won his last PGA Tour start, The Chevron World Challenge on December 4th and finished third at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. His confidence is as high as it’s been in years.


In his first round of the ATT at Spyglass Hill Golf course, Woods fired off six birdies for an opening round of 68, hitting eleven of fourteen fairways and fifteen of eighteen greens in regulation.


·   His ball control is much better than it’s been, and he’s working the ball left to right and right to left comfortably. Both physically and mentally he looks really healthy and his competition should be scared. He’s going to win at least three times this season.


·   Pebble Beach will be a good start for Tiger. He won the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by fifteen shots. He knows how to win big on this track.


 ·  Woods has made adversity his mental training ground. The stress and struggles of the past few years have only made him that much tougher and he’s ready to dominate the game again.


 ·  Woods is hard-wired through years of world-class programming to focus on a vision and persevere at any cost. He doesn’t understand what giving up is.


·   Champions like Woods are professional failures. They know that success is based on a series of comebacks, and that setbacks are set-ups for comebacks.


The bottom line for Siebold? A bet against a champion like Tiger Woods is a bad bet. On the physical plane he has perseverance, on the mental plane he has toughness and on the spiritual plane he has says Siebold.


I agree with Steve Siebold that a bet against Woods at this point in his resurgence is a strong one but it should also be weighed heavily against other golfers in the field. In this stage of his career, with negatives drifting behind him, I think that Woods has the potential to win several golf tournaments this season, including a major (U.S. Open perhaps? He won it before hobbling on one leg...)


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Wednesday, February 01, 2012

What happens at the 2012 PGA Golf Merchandise Show?

You've probably heard about the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show on Twitter, Facebook and anywhere else on the internet where golf is being spoken and wondered what it was all about and so, as I read this press release, I immediately thought that golf fans would be interested in what happens at the biggest trade-only event of the year. It's a huge party of sorts thrown by the PGA of America. Here is a peek into the first day of the 2012 PGA Golf Merchandise Show...enjoy!



Fun, optimism part of strong opening day for 59th PGA Merchandise Show

What if you threw a party and everybody came? You'd have something like the first day of the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show, where all of golf's biggest companies turned out in full force to show their latest products to thousands of PGA Professionals and golf shop merchandisers at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Fla., Jan. 26 - 28.

More than 1,000 companies welcomed thousands of PGA Professionals and golf shop buyers from more than 80 countries to the 59th Show. Attendees saw the latest in golf equipment, products and services, and apparel, as well as a number of high-profile guest appearances. Jack Nicklaus and baseball great Ken Griffey Jr. helped open the Show, and the rest of Thursday included appearances by 2012 U.S. Ryder Cup Captain Davis Love III, David Leadbetter, Michael Breed, Greg Norman, Butch Harmon, Natalie Gulbis, Lexi Thompson, Johnny Damon and Win McMurry.

But the real life of the party was the wide variety of new products on display. Product introductions from industry leaders such as Titleist, Callaway Golf, TaylorMade, Ping and Wilson were behind the buzz on the Show floor.

"I think consumers are going to be very excited by the new products for 2012," said Brad Bachand, the PGA head professional at Man O'War Golf in Lexington, Ky., and the 2007 Kentucky PGA Section Merchandiser of the Year for public facilities. "All the products we're seeing are so good, you can't really go wrong."

The stage was set for an exciting day when the PGA Merchandise Show opened with a musical performance by country music star Julie Roberts, who sang an emotional rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner." Attention then shifted to PGA President Allen Wronowski, who introduced Nicklaus and Griffey. The pair then helped two local Boys & Girls Club members hit ceremonial first shots using SNAG Golf equipment, and the 59th PGA Merchandise Show was underway.

The length of the Show floor was filled with attendees who were ready to place orders and learn about the latest golf merchandise.

"The Show is all about who's attending: For golf shops, they want to be able to see everything under one roof; for manufacturers, we want to be in front of all the great retail partners we work with throughout the year," said Bob Philion, president of Cobra Puma Golf. "The more people and companies you can get in one place, the more bang for your buck. It's incredibly important for us to be able to see so many accounts in one place."

"This is the capital of golf this week," agreed Raphael Peck, global vice president of apparel, footwear and accessories for Oakley Golf. "It's critically important to be here if you want to get your message across to your customers."

With the Golf 2.0 initiative placing a focus on making golf fun, many exhibits followed suit. Cobra Puma had an adult-sized ball slide, while Travis Mathew had a blackjack table and the Golf 2.0 booth itself offered attendees a chance to play video golf. The fun activities fit in with the optimistic mood of the Show.

"The Show is amazingly upbeat and optimistic," said Wronowski, presiding over his second PGA Merchandise Show as PGA President. "There's a lot of excitement and buzz. Certainly it feels like there is recovery in the industry."

Nicklaus' love for the game fuels desire to see it prosper

Noting that "golf has given me everything I have," and "I care about the game," legendary champion and course architect Jack Nicklaus spent much of Thursday morning affirming to the industry his belief that aspects of the game need to change in order for it to prosper, and that Golf 2.0 is a major step in the right direction.

Nicklaus began the day with a short speech to open the 59th PGA Merchandise Show, then, along with PGA President Allen Wronowski and PGA CEO Joe Steranka, met with a group of multi-course owners to encourage their support in implementing Golf 2.0 strategies at their facilities. Shortly thereafter, he delivered the keynote address at the PGA Forum Stage, where he and Steranka were joined by host Jimmy Roberts of NBC Sports; Mike Davis, executive director of the U.S. Golf Association; Frank Sanchez, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of America; and baseball superstar Ken Griffey Jr., who sits on the Boys & Girls Clubs Board of Governors.

"I've always been a traditionalist, but I've realized that in order to save the game we need to think outside the box," said Nicklaus. "This plan (Golf 2.0) is the most comprehensive that's ever been put together, it's not a Jack Nicklaus or PGA of America initiative, it's something the whole industry needs to be involved in."

Nicklaus also touched on the need for "golf parks" to capture the attention of kids and their families, and the importance of the Olympics in making the game more relevant around the world. He concluded his morning with a question and answer session with industry media representatives at the PGA of America State of the Industry Roundtable.


Leading apparel brands deliver innovative offerings

The Apparel Hall at the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show is flush with the latest fashions, fabrics and styles from the industry's leading companies, as well as special events such as fashion shows and celebrity appearances.

A new Fashion E-Studio will provide an exciting interactive destination showcasing the latest trends from the biggest names in golf apparel and accessories with live presentations throughout Show Week. Many presentations are being streamed to a virtual audience.

The Fashion E-Studio is surrounded by multiple apparel, accessory and footwear companies, making it a comprehensive, one-stop collection of fashion trends from leading brands such as FootJoy, Puma, adidas, Cutter & Buck, Antigua, Fairway & Greene and many more.

Puma's star continues to rise with a youth-driven offering that includes pieces like the Duo-Swing mesh polo, quarter zip pullover and Golf SS Kinetic jacket, all designed with layering in mind so the golfer can adjust to changing weather.

"I think the younger market is really going to love this product," said Brian Short, a PGA Professional at Penn State University Golf Course in State College, Pa. "Puma is going to hit a different market that no one else has really hit before."

FootJoy is introducing its second full apparel collection, which includes four all-new contemporary color collections, exciting performance pieces for all playing conditions, and an expanded Essentials group.

Athletic brands remain dominant in many golf shops, including Under Armour, whose revolutionary new "coldblack" technology reflects the heat of the sun so the athlete feels cooler and sweats less. Callaway offers "core function" features like moisture wicking, strategic breathability and UPF 30-plus protection, while adidas continues to impress for fall by blending performance and innovation with unexpected styling.

For Cutter & Buck, the key to fall 2012 is "Warm Yarn" technology, which uses a lightweight double-faced fabric to create an insulating layer between your body and the garment.

"A lot of the detail and nuances in the line in our fall collection are being received really well," said Stacy Mangum, brand director at Cutter & Buck.

Luxurious cotton remains a strong point for Fairway & Greene, whose sister company EP Pro offers easy-care performance fabrics in four color-driven collections. Greg Norman Collection shows an enhanced sweater presentation for men and a variety of color and pattern work for women.

About the PGA Merchandise Show
The PGA Merchandise Show is not open to the public. Organized in partnership with The PGA of America as a trade-only event, the 2012 PGA Merchandise Show will be held in the Orange County Convention Center ~ 8:30 a.m. - 6:00 p.m. on Jan. 26-27; and 8:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. on Jan. 28


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