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Archive for December, 2010

The LPGA – what now?

By Mary Armstrong

Published in the Las Cruces Sun-News 11/05/2010

The LPGA tour is winding down for the season.  Two events remain before the LPGA Tour Championship will be played December 2nd through 5th at Florida’s Grand Cypress Resort.  The tournament is presumably supposed to parallel the Men’s Tour Championship, which is arrogantly named the World Golf Championship, but the LPGA version is lacking in much more than just prize dollars – $1.5 million vs. the $8.5 million for the men’s event.  And by the way, it’s hard to imagine that the World Golf Championships could compare to the 127 international players from 28 countries that play on the LPGA week in and week out.

Stina Sternberg’s Golf Digest page this month features the Rolex LPGA Tour Championship as a “Tourney in Turmoil”.  From my perspective it’s more of a soap opera.  It seems that this tournament has been racked by controversy since ADT declined to extend its sponsorship in 2008.   

Beginning in 2006, the LPGA was the first to implement a playoff (ala the FedEx Cup) system and so-called postseason.  The tournament was played at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach and was called the LPGA Playoffs at The ADT.  Through 2008 the field was an elite group of 32 players.  In October of 2008 a “full field” event of 120 players was announced with Stanford Financial as the new sponsor.  The new tournament was to be played in Houston with the LPGA’s best purse of two million dollars.  In February of 2009 Stanford Financial was busted by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC) for allegedly committing 8 billion dollars in fraud.  CEO Allan Stanford was accused “massive ongoing fraud” involving high-yield certificates of deposit held in the firm’s Antiguan bank.  All the company’s assets were frozen.  Tournament Operator for the 2009 event, IMG, was left holding the bill as Stanford Financial eventually went bankrupt last year.  

The LPGA took over as the tournament operator and IMG was saddled with putting up the money.  The purse shrunk to 1.5 million and in response to the loss of several full field tournaments, LPGA officials abandoned the exclusive field format the LPGA Tour Championship. 

To top it all off, in 2008 there were three events in the LPGA’s home state of Florida.  In 2009 there none. 

If you’re thinking “what a mess”, I’m with you.  In an interview by Stina Sternberg, tour player Sophie Gustafson voices her frustration with the schedule.  The LPGA Tour Championship is a full SEVEN weeks after the tour’s last full field event.  The fact that the LPGA is made up of so many international players makes the situation even more difficult.  Gustafson remarks, “I’d rather play the week before Thanksgiving and go home to Sweden for a few weeks.”  But the schedule was set due to the availability of the venue.  Grand Cypress Golf Club apparently holds all the marbles.  Gustafson also took aim on the full field format, saying, “Playing in a Tour Championship should be a reward.  The rank-and-file are screaming for more full field events, so I think it’s hard for [commissioner] Mike Whan to go back to the old format, but I hope we get there.” 

The reality is that both tours have struggled with sponsorships and maintaining the status quo.  But it’s clear the LPGA has suffered most.  A few months ago I wrote that Michael Whan should be thinking outside the box.  The rumor is that next year’s LPGA Tour Championship may embody just that approach.  Whan says that he and his staff have been looking for sponsors for a new format which would bring back the exclusive field concept.  He says, “It’s neither the existing format of the 2010 LPGA Championship nor any of the previous formats for the season finale, but an exciting new idea that seems to be resonating with the sponsors considering our proposal. 

The LPGA’s problems aren’t unique.  Other women’s sports don’t seem to be able to garner the same following that the guy’s do.  I’m not  a big fan of capitalism – visa vie marketing and advertising theory – but for goodness sake, if businesses can get women to buy a particular brand of pantyhose or men to buy a certain razor why can’t they figure out what it takes to sell the LPGA tour?  I hate to say it, but I think there are too many guys involved.  The guys have been trying to make the LPGA a tour of sex goddesses since Laura Baugh and Jan Stephenson.  It hasn’t worked.  In a 2006 Golf Digest article by Kate Meyers, Kathy Whitworth vented against the sex sells approach.  “I can’t imagine us going down that road again,” says Whitworth, 63 (at the time). “It didn’t work then, it won’t work now. If this is the only way we can make this organization grow, I think it will die, just shrivel up. The sponsors aren’t going to pay a million dollars a week for someone to come in in a scantily clad outfit. They can pay a model to do that.”

After 50 years you’d think they’d realize that it just isn’t working.  Oh, and by the way, did I mention that Lorena Ochoa beat Colin Montgomerie in the pro-celebrity Star Trophy at Mission Hills last Sunday?

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:


Is golf immune to drug use?

By Mary Armstrong

Published by the Las Cruces Sun-News 12/17/2010

Drug use in sports continues to be a critical issue.  Steroids, human growth hormone (HGH), amphetamines, beta blockers, narcotics…as detection tests are devised other substances are developed.  It has long been recognized that certain substances can enhance a participant’s performance.  Whether in a person’s skill for whacking a ball into a hole or the ability to chase down a wounded wild pig, men (and women) have looked for an edge.  We also know there is a non-negotiable health price to be paid in all cases. 

In Michael S. Bahrke’s book “Performance-enhancing substances in sport and exercise”, he traces the spread of performance-enhancing drugs to World War II and the practice of “boosting” soldiers.  This was nothing new as it had long been known that different substances could improve soldiers’ performance in battle.  During the Civil War, the coffee ration was at least three to four pints of strong black coffee per day.  Interestingly, cavalry and artillery regiments didn’t use the stuff and they referred to the infantry, rather condescendingly, as “coffee boilers”.  It wasn’t unusual for infantry “stragglers” to stop, build a fire, boil some coffee and drink it, which enabled them to catch up to their regiment before nightfall.  The use of stimulants such as coffee eventually led to experimentation with amphetamines, although it took some 50 years as amphetamines were first developed in 1887. “The use of these ‘pep pills’ by prewar college students, combined with the experiences of servicemen who used them to competitive edge in armed services football appears to have laid the foundation for introduction of amphetamines to professional and collegiate sport at the end of World War II.”

In 1984 the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) became the first sports organization to begin testing of athletes in the United States.  The following year, the NFL became the first of the major professional sport to ban substances and perform testing.  This coincided with then First Lady Nancy Reagan’s “just say no” anti-drug campaign and the release of an early “edutainment” video entitled “Stop the Madness”.  The video included a brief appearance by NFL defensive lineman Lyle Alzado who later died of brain cancer which he attributed to his addiction to anabolic steroids. 

But the PGA and LPGA have lagged in testing for performance-enhancing and illegal drugs.  Both tours began “in-competition” testing in 2008.  There have been few actions taken and the programs have been condemned from both sides.  Most noteworthy have been Gary Player, who has stated publicly that he personally knows of at least two PGA tour players that are on performance-enhancing drugs.  On the other side, Nick Faldo has been quoted as saying there is no drug problem in golf and therefore no need to even look into it.  Faldo points to the code of honor in golf, stating “The bottom line is they’re just cheating.  And if you want to play golf, you forget about that from day one.” 

Reality is probably somewhere in the middle.  After all, illicit drug use is pervasive through American society – why would a sub-population of comparatively wealthy athletes be any different?  If anything, the most successful tour players have enough money to do whatever they need to maintain a competitive edge.  But, let’s not sell professional golfers short.  If you’ve followed my column, you know that I think highly of golf as a benefit to society – a “classroom of civic training”. 

So let’s take a look at why golfers would be enticed to take something.  I seriously doubt that anyone would consider steroids only because they can have a horrible effect on your psyche.  And as for being stronger, that isn’t necessarily an advantage when generating a 115 mph swing speed.  Besides, “the woods are full of long hitters” – anyone that is scoring in the three handicap or less range knows that it’s not how far you hit it, but where you hit it.  For the same reason, I think we can disregard HGH.

On the other hand, performance enhancers that help you focus or reduces stress might be tempting.  Several tour players have publicly stated they believe some of their fellow competitors are taking beta blockers.  Beta blockers are legally used to treat high blood pressure, heart arrhythmia and glaucoma, among other disorders.  A part of their effectiveness in this regard is their ability to block the effect of stress hormones on the heart.  As a part of this process, they also block the “fight or flight” impulse which can arise when we are faced with particularly stressful situations.  This “side-effect” of the drug seemingly can reduce stress and permit a higher function in stressful situations.  It has long been used and even prescribed for stage fright for musicians and those that must do public speaking. 

Drugs affect everyone differently.  Beta blockers may calm some people just enough to perform well, but it may put others asleep.  Nick Price took beta blockers in the mid to late 80’s for a heart condition and in his words, “You’re never high, and you’re never low. You’re just blah.”  Price felt that period was the worst of his career.  Amphetamines may help you to concentrate or tolerate, perhaps even enjoy, the monotony of practice, but it’s just as likely to make you overly nervous, restless or even dizzy.  And that’s just the psychophysical symptoms.  The physical side effects are…well, you don’t even want to think about it. 

In summary, I expect there are some tour players that are using illegal drugs or using prescription drugs illicitly.  There are probably those that are using them and thinking that they are getting benefits when in fact the “placebo affect” is the reason.  I am certainly no expert in this subject, but I feel it is an important issue.  I’ve done far more research than I usually do for my weekly column, but I’ve only scratched the surface.  If you are considering using performance-enhancing drugs, I hope you will at least consult with your physician or other knowledgeable person that has your long term health in mind before putting anything into your body.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces in January 2010.  She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects.  You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

Putting for birdies, the joy of golf

By Mary Armstrong
Posted: 12/10/2010 09:10:19 AM MST


Last week, we had some fun, didn’t we?
Why can’t golf always be fun?

Shortly after finishing last week’s article, my copy of Golf Digest arrived. The entire issue focuses on fun! As I read through many hilarious war stories, collection of fun articles, and the usual self-help tips, I came across a commentary by Ron Kaspriske. “Living Large” explores what it took for this 14 handicapper to “really score.”

I’ve often said that most people play from tees that are too long for them. Being a woman, I get by with playing from the blues or even farther back with little more than raised eyebrows, but having a guy move up to the forward tees well, that will be interesting. In Kaspriske’s words, “how short would a course have to be before a 14 handicapper could break par for 18 holes?”

He started by playing from the forward tees at World Woods Golf Club in Brooksville, Fla., despite feeling the world was laughing at him as he teed up and drove off the first. Much to his chagrin, the forward tees weren’t short enough, as he scored “only” an 81. His next round was played from self-proclaimed teeing grounds about 20 yards in front of the forward tees. The result was a 78. Ron was on a mission of self-discovery – in a golfing sense. After these two rounds, he realized that even though he was a relatively long driver, his short game and putting were holding him back. After all, even if you hit it “outta sight,” you still have to hole it to score. He decided that he needed to play from a spot that would allow him to reach each par 4 with his drive and each par 5 in two. This strategy worked. At 4,792 yards he was able to shoot a one under par 70.

The “Scoring Machine” started out by driving the par 4 first and then two-putting for a birdie, followed by driving the second and draining a 30 footer for eagle. He really enjoyed being three under after two holes. What was particularly poignant about his round though was the realization that 12 chances at birdie in 18 holes makes you much more comfortable with having birdie putts. His history was that he could “make a six-footer backhanded for triple, but he wouldn’t give himself a 5-incher for birdie.” He finished his fun round with 29 putts and only one three-putt.

I came across this article because I was reading Editor Jerry Tarde’s “Editor Letter” and he led with a story about one of the greatest golfers of all time, Henry Cotton. Cotton won the British Open three times and was known for his first victory when he shot 65 in the second round. The round was so impressive at the time that Dunlop named one of their balls the “65”. So in 1982, Tarde was at the Open and he happened upon the 75-year-old. When asked, “So how are you playing, Henry?” Cotton smiled and said, “the real fun of golf is putting for birdies. So at my age, I start every hole by teeing up wherever it’s necessary, even if it’s the fairway, so I can reach the green in regulation and putt for birdies.”

Personally, I think he is right on. I played the other day at NMSU in celebration of completing my last final exam. I mostly played alone during that breezy afternoon, but on the back nine I caught up with a couple of men that were playing the blues. They asked me to join them and since there was no way for me to make much progress by going through, I agreed. On the first hole, the 14th, I drove the green and then on 15 reached in two. On the 16th, one of the guys suggested that I should be playing from their tees. I said, “I do occasionally play from the whites or further back, but today I decided to treat myself because I had just finished my final exams.” What I should have said was, “You should join me at the forward tees and really enjoy the game.”

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog:

David Feherty — when humor and sincerity intersect

By Mary Armstrong/For the Sun-News

Posted: 12/02/2010 10:12:32 PM MST

David Feherty is perhaps the most recognizable of all our golf broadcasters. His calling card is his iconic Irish accent and wit.

If you’re pulled into his off-kilter humor you’re sure to be a permanent fan. What you may not know is David is a tremendous supporter of our troops. In his own words: “Any member of the military can walk with me, any time, anywhere, as long as it’s okay with the organizers — and now that I think of it, even if it’s not.”

Feherty was born in Bangor, Northern Ireland in 1958. He became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. last February.

A week or so ago David wrote in his GOLF Magazine Blog about a day he spent with Marine Michael Campbell at the Colonial Tournament last May. The 28 year old had been severely injured while fighting in Fallujah in 2003. Specifically, he suffered a TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury) when an IED exploded nearby, killing most of his fellow Marines.

Few people can take as serious an injury as this and add humor without demeaning the person or the horrific event that harmed him. But, David being David, waded right into the fray.

He begins with a self-deprecating observation — always good in these situations — stating that he didn’t recall how the meeting was arranged — probably due to his own self-inflicted TBI. Feherty goes on to give us a glimpse into his own personality by revealing he has had bouts with mental health. I suppose you could read his statement as self-deprecation as well, but somehow it came through as a true confession and in fact he has struggled with and been treated for alcoholism and depression.

Feherty’s attention was immediately peaked when Michael “announced that he was going to be spending the day with me, and that he wanted to turn pro.” Apparently Michael’s injuries have resulted in a very short memory span. David, having a “razor-sharp intuition,” realized this after the young man asked David his name twice in a 20-minute span and followed up with a request for a picture of the two of them.

Michael explained that it would help him to extend his two-minute memory span and also give him a place to write notes. At this point, Feherty recognized that Michael indeed did have some kind of mental issue. In his article he remarks, “For some reason I attract them, or maybe they attract me. Either way, I seem to spend a lot of time with people who at least on the surface appear to be totally crazy. And Michael the Marine was a ripper!”

As the day passed, David saw that like other wounded armed service members he’s met, Michael’s sense of humor was his self-defense. As they got to know each other, David’s feelings for Michael only became stronger. After the round, David offered Michael his cell phone number.

Later, they met at “Harmon’s Heroes” — an event that Butch Harmon and Greg Maddux host in Las Vegas. The week before Michael played in Feherty’s tournament in San Antonio. There, David discovered that when Michael told him he wanted to turn pro there was more to it than you might expect from someone with a TBI. The reality was that Michael really is a good player — so good that Butch Harmon thinks he might make the tour as well.

The title of David’s article was “The loss of memory can be a curse…and a blessing.” In typical Feherty fashion, he turns Michael’s disability into a positive, stating: “I think it was Ingrid Bergman who said, “All you need for a happy life is good health and a bad memory.'”

I can’t think of a sport other than golf in which these to attributes would be more helpful, so please remember the name, “Michael Campbell’. If nothing else, you should remember Michael, because he might not.

A golf architect in New Hampshire for over 20 years, Armstrong brought her craft to Las Cruces last January. She is the founder of Armstrong Golf Architects, which provides planning, designing, permitting and construction monitoring services for golf course projects. You can comment on her writing and view past articles at her blog: