Howling in a new era: We could get used to it

Bartlett, Potter and George ... into the gloaming.

Bartlett, Potter and George … into the gloaming. (Photo by Chris Mallory)

We are, for the most part, what we are – a demographic. As such, you would think we’d act our age.

Oh, hell no.

We weren’t partying on a deck hanging over the Hood Canal tidelands, and we had to pay actual money to rent the house, but there were tradeoffs: location, location, and location. You could see the canal in the near-distance from the golf course; you could see George, if you knew what you were looking for.

This year we took over a whole different sector of rural Mason County USA, a little more civilized venue than we’re used to but still Howl-worthy.

This was, of course, the traditional midsummer brawl of the Grey Goatee Golf Association, the 9th annual Howl at the Canal, the weekend every July that we kick up our heels, kick out the jams and kick down the door (or open it gently, with a key, so as not to endanger our damage deposit).

Yes, it was the Howl, boys and girls, and there was golf – the fourth stop on the 3GA Tour, this time hosted by the good folks at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club in Union, Wash.,

Alderbrook is a classy, well-tended and challenging course, ripe for the carving by the 3GA, distinguished by the double-dogleg par-5 No. 8, which, by the way, the local pro plays hybrid-hybrid-wedge.

So, okay, I buried the lead. This wasn’t just any Howl at the Canal … it was the first post-cabin Howl, and it was only painful when I thought about it and/or breathed.

Instead of the cabin, which The Commissar’s family kissed off last fall, the Howl HQ for Grey Goatee Nation was a big house no farther than a fat wedge from the Alderbrook clubhouse.

This was a damn mansion, by 3GA standards, far too nice for the likes of us, but we persevered with the required activities après-golf: charring red meat, drinking beverages of many colors, and burning long brown cylinders into ash.

3GA hatWhen an impromptu 10-hole, two-club tournament broke out at dusk, it started at the No. 9 teebox, a  7-iron from the greenside deck. The players came back insisting it had to be a new Howl tradition.

In the real 3GA tournament, well, sometimes change is good. First-place money went to The Commissar his own self, and be assured that does not happen often in this tournament or any other.

Let it be said – dare I? – a Howl was had by all.

The Bandon experience, Day 2: Bandon Trails

It can’t be said our waterproof gear failed, really. It just didn’t work, against the insistent rain, the weighty rain, the damned and damnable rain that blew in our faces and seeped down our necks, that sloshed over our shoes and rendered meaningless their two-year waterproof warranties.

By the end, we just wanted to get warm and dry … so while weather is part of the deal at Bandon Dunes Golf Resort, we were glad to be done with 18 at Bandon Trails and in no mood or condition to play our afternoon round*.

Which is a shame, because Bandon Trails, the most inland of the four full-length Bandon courses, is beautiful, sweeping, dare-to-be-great devilish and not like any course you’ll ever see.

Bandon Trails is not a course you can quit at the turn when the weather is shitty … it’s not built that way. For the first 10 holes, the rain was spotty, anyway, and the wind no less punitive than usual.  On No. 11, it started dumping, and it didn’t stop.

Therefore, most of our impressions of the Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw design are of the first nine holes.

Silvery phacelia: The hat

Silvery phacelia: The hat

No. 2 is a relatively easy par-3, 166 yards from the green tees, but the eye stretches to the broad and misty forever – take a breath.

The fifth, another par-3, has a wide, deep and undulating green, and it was the site of the only KP of the day. Thank you, boys, for buying my martini (dry), once we hit the Bunker Bar (dry) in fresh clothes (dry).

To get from the 13th green to the 14th tee, you climb up to a road and catch a tram, or whatever you want to call the motor transport with cheerful driver and – on this day – a roof angled perfectly to sluice a thick stream of water onto the golfers clinging to the back seats – namely, Barry and Kevin. It was maybe not so hilarious at the time as it was – to me – over dinner.

We were a forlorn threesome on the course, for sure, and to think being that wet would not affect our golf is too much to expect, and finally, pretty funny. We didn’t take any pictures, and if anybody had we were a vision, marinated in our Smartwool.

Its off-coast routing earns lower marks from some players compared to the other Bandon courses, but the three of us agreed that Trails was the Bandon course we most wanted another crack at … on a better day.

*Bandon Preserve postscript
We had no stomach for the 2 p.m. tee time at Bandon Preserve, which was a disappointment. Preserve  is the newest course at Bandon, a pretty and challenging 13-hole par-3 layout designed by Coore and Crenshaw.

Bandon Preserve’s creators protected, during construction, the silvery phacelia, a tiny flower endangered by non-native species. Net profits at the course go to an organization that supports coastal conservation.

I’ve never seen silvery phacelia up close, but on the Preserve logo it looks a little like a plant species that is legal for recreational consumption in two states, which might or might not have affected my decision to buy the hat.

The Bandon experience, Day 1: Bandon Dunes

Along about the time we were getting serious about making plans, weighing dates and times and all the minutiae, one of us had a medical episode. It wasn’t serious, though it could have been, and it was timed so badly I had to laugh. This is the same guy who often says, We gotta do these things, these life-list things, because you just never know … I always tell him to shut up and quit the drama queen shit. He recovered promptly, and there were no lingering effects, so we had no reason not to go, just go and do it.

We drove south on a Wednesday morning, in a rented minivan, into the rain. I was with Barry Bartlett and Kevin Patterson, two guys without whom it wouldn’t have felt right going to Bandon. The rain kept raining and wiped out our scheduled round at Langdon Farms in Aurora, just south of Portland. Three hours later, when we got to Florence, it was pretty okay. We teed off at Sandpines, a really good golf course that deserves better than being an “on the way to” visit. We got in a niner, got minorly wet, ate a great meal in downtown Florence, then split for Bandon.

Kevin took a selfie on No. 5.

Kevin took a selfie on No. 5.

Day One: Where it began
It was right that we played our first day at Bandon Dunes, the first Bandon course carved from the cliffs and linksland of the southern Oregon coast, the course that first began to shape the legend of Bandon Dunes Golf Resort.

Two of our party had missed Bandon Dunes in a previous visit to the resort, and the third was a first-timer in Bandon, so it was new to all of us.

The David McLay Kidd layout, opened in 1999, is splendid. If its newer neighbor, Pacific Dunes, is higher on the best-of lists (usually tucked in just behind Pebble Beach), does that make Bandon Dunes a lesser course?

Nicklaus is “better” than Palmer, by most measures, but who’s The King?

We teed off in windage that seemed manageable at the time … That we never managed the wind, or anything else in our round, was all right. We got around.

No. 5 is the hardest hole on the course, and you wonder whether it’s because a player is so moved by the ocean spectacle on his left that he loses focus on the shots he needs to hit. On this hole, that’s a drive to the right side of a split fairway, then an approach to a brutally narrow green.

That’s the Pacific, to be specific, and No. 6, a mid-length par-3, is straight ahead from the 5th on the same coastal bluff. Club up here, boys and girls, because you’re hitting into the wind, most days.

Even moving from one ridiculously gorgeous hole to the next, I had to remind myself, more than once, to get out of my brooding brain and take a deep breath and a long look around. At No. 8, it’s around and around and around, a panorama that threatens to tip your visual sensors into overload. If ever you forget you’re there to play golf, this might be the hole.

No. 16 is the only hole where I deposited a golf ball into the Pacific. It’s a lovely hole, the bitch.

Walking up 18, I was tired, ready to stop playing golf for the day, but nowhere near ready to be done with Bandon Dunes. So I’ll be back, if death and doctors and life itself don’t intervene.

Next: Bandon Trails.

U.S. Open, Day 2: The Kaymer wave

Martin Keymer

Martin Keymer

Pinehurst No. 2, Friday, June 13

3:00 p.m. PDT: Free fall Phil
With Kaymer posting a second-straight 65, Phil Mickelson would love to be one of the players putting pressure on the auto-cruising German. But Mickelson is spinning his wheels at 2-over par through 15.

Graeme McDowell is sharp in his white standup-collar polo and trousers with a dash of red threaded thinly through a silver-grey plaid. Not flashy, but solid, and we’ll see what he brings out for the weekend … he’s probably within the cut-line, but at 2-over through 15, you never know.

Brendon Todd just got to 4-under through 15, and Kevin Na is back at 3-under after a bogey at 17. Snedeker is at -3 through 16, and Jordan Spieth is just now at -3 after a birdie on 13.

Are any of them close enough? Say this, for sure: There’s not a fashion contender among them.

8:44 a.m. PDT: Boss Kaymer
Martin Kaymer is all high-end in his fashion apparel while his golf score goes low and lower. Hugo Boss provides his clothes, and today it’s a nice silver-grey-on-black polo, with a Mercedes-Benz logo claiming prime real estate on the right chest.

Which, it could be argued, is all incidental, because Kaymer’s all the way to 9-under par for the tournament as part of the Friday-morning wave at Pinehurst No. 2. He’s six shots clear of the field right now.

Earlier, when the GG fashion committee had just tuned in to the ESPN cablecast, commentator Curtis Strange said, “I don’t think his mindset’s changed much with a six-shot lead.” Six-shot lead? It happened with four birdies in a 32 on the back nine, and another birdie on No. 3 when he drove the green on the 307-yard par-4 and comfortably two-putted.

A cluster of players under par tee off in the afternoon wave, including Graeme McDowell (-2), yesterday’s Fashion Leader who remains the odds-on favorite, even sight unseen today, by consensus of the committee.

It’s U.S. Open week: Day 1

Pinehurst No. 2, Thursday, June 12

5:10 p.m. PDT: Kaymer
Martin Kaymer once clearly aspired to Fashion Leader status. You could tell by those scarf/dickie/cravat things he used to wear when he played, to which the Grey Goatee fashion committee said, “Hell, no.”

Now, the 29-year-old German wears a more-or-less normal polo, like everyone else, and see? It’s working for him. He won the Players Championship this year, and today he shot 65 at Pinehurst No. 2 to take the first-round lead by three strokes.

He could contend, but we’ll see on Sunday. No damn scarves.

11:20 a.m. PDT: Notes on fashion
The obvious choice, too obvious, for the fashion leader in the clubhouse — with half the U.S. Open field done for the day – would be Rickie Fowler. And you have to  like the plus-fours, a nod to Payne Stewart, and argyle knee socks. But for us, the first-day champ is Graeme McDowell.

Today, McDowell is sporting a really fabulous polo with textured-purple body and  solid-color sleeves, which as always in his line (G-Mac by Kartel) features the standup, hidden-buttondown collar.

It’s a long four days, and somebody could emerge, but for the fashion committee at Grey Goatee HQ, the smart money is on McDowell, who never seems like he’s trying quite as hard as Fowler. If anybody cares, he was also tied for the lead in the golf tournament until five minutes ago.

9:25 a.m. PDT: Mickelson watch 
If I had an editor, besides myself, he or she might have asked earlier this week, “What’s the story at the U.S. Open?”

I might have  answered, “Mickelson, maybe.”

And the editor might have said, “Mickelson, maybe?”

Phil Mickelson is always the story at the U.S. Open, because he’s come close and lost it so many fucking times. And this year, he teed off under the cloud of allegations he might have made trades with insider knowledge (comes word, via the New York Times today, that he did not).

He still seems tone-deaf to the world, naïve when he should be savvy, a big dumb kid when he should be making the decisions of a supremely skilled 43–year-old man of some intelligence.

This is the same Mickelson who whined over the taxes he, as a multimillionaire, has to pay. Who flew home for his daughter’s middle-school  graduation. Middle school? To me and many, it seemed like a stunt to make him look like big family-man man.

And still, I root for the guy, a habit from the days he was unanimously regarded as the best player never to have won a major. Now, he has a cluster of majors … but no U.S. Opens.

With his mind on golf full-on, presumably, Mickelson has played well today, tied at 2-under through 14 holes, though he dropped a shot on 15 and just missed a birdie putt on 16 and hooked his tee ball into trouble on 17.

He’s healthy, wealthy and wise, more or less, and he’s always, in this tournament in this era, the story.

Teacher’s Corner: Cassidy, Lesson 2

NEVER LET IT BE SAID this game is simple.  John Cassidy, the teacher in this little drama, says often: “Golf is hard.”

He makes it look so easy.

Cassidy, of course, is not just Dr. John, teacher to the stars (and lowlife bloggers). He’s a player, in fact champion week before last against a strong field at the Washington Open Invitational at Meridian Valley CC. He’ll try to make it a Northwest two-fer June 10-12 at the Oregon Open at Black Butte’s Glaze Meadow.

Golf is hard …

So the euphoria of the best round of my life – a round in which I know I did at least some of the things I worked on with Cassidy – was followed by a couple rounds with little of the snap and flow I felt that day.  Not horrible, but not great, and no one in my group would have said they noticed much difference in my game at all.

But I know, and there’s no going back. After two lessons, it feels better, even when the scorecard looks about the same.

John Cassidy, 32, teaches golf at Alderbrook Golf and Yacht Club in Union, Wash. His student is a 50-something-nearer-to-60 hack who is sick of being so bad.

And I have the evidence of my lowest round ever, and it wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t a coincidence … it felt like where I should be, and still with room for improvement – lots of room.

So I have to be excited about Lesson 3. Dr. John says in his experience the third lesson is where the student really starts to get it. Golf is hard … but this is fun.

John Cassidy

John Cassidy

***

A Cassidy sampler (from Lesson 2):

After my comment that the core and stability exercises are the ones I tend to skip in my workouts: “That’s OK, it’s only the most important part of the golf swing.”

“A lot of sitting on your back foot …” So he shifted my stance, my hips mainly, slightly forward. It felt right, instantly. I felt like I was not falling forward when I swung, but I still felt like I was in motion through the swing, toward the target.

“We’re doing better making the (shoulder) turn, but we’re not quite making the turn.” He gave me one of the fundamental drills in golf instruction: with hands crossed over the chest, holding the club shaft parallel to the ground at shoulder level, turn back until the left shoulder is over the ball, then back through, in balance … so that when I’m turned all the way onto my left side I can lift my right foot off the ground and not topple over.

It’s a process, it’s an order of operations … If you can get everything started correctly, if you can get to the top in a good position, you will swing down in the correct way, too , naturally, because you’ve set ourselves up to deliver the club to the ball. But if you go back incorrectly, everything from that point is a makeup.”

 

This damn game 6: Dawn Patrol, with woodpecker

IN THE EARLY MORNING, some days, the dew glistens in the brilliant sunshine and makes a golf ball disappear in plain sight, like it was just another point of light among millions. Today was cloudy, more burnished silver than yellow-gold shiny, and golf balls were easier to find in the odd places they ended up.

It’s the Dawn Patrol, at Tumwater National Golf and Polo, the course closest to Grey Goatee World Headquarters. So far it’s been a solo maneuver in the handful of days I’ve made it out of bed to tee off roundabout 6 a.m. The guy who proposed the Patrol hasn’t yet seen fit to join me.

I expect he will, eventually – it was his goddamn idea. When he does, it will be different.

I’d never thought to wonder what song a woodpecker sings, whether its voice blends with the cheeps and chortles and tweeps of Bird World on an early-morning golf course in the heart of springtime. The only sound I had heretofore associated with Woodrow and his ‘pecker brethren is the knockity-knockity of oversized beak on tree trunk, loud out of all proportion to such a little bird.

Today, it was on No. 11 that I heard the woodpecker doing his drumming thing, over there on the right beyond the cart path near the shortcut through the trees past the back of the 12th green toward the tee on 13. I wondered: So, Woodrow, is that all you got? Do you have a mating call for when you’re, like, mating?

I imagined your love interest hearing your best work on that tree trunk and sizing you up: “Hmm, good deep wood tones, smooth rhythm … seems like a solid guy, like he’d really know how to bring home the bugs.”

That’s what I was thinking this morning, walking by myself down 11, before I found my golf ball, in plain sight, in the fairway.

Sometimes, when I’m walking to my ball, I write sentences in my head, and sometimes they end up in odd places, too.

This damn game 5: Clarity

I work, in my day job, in collaboration with other team members and/or cohorts, in pursuit of a concept and/or notion identified, if not defined, as “strategic clarity,” which will be a synthesis, when achieved (notwithstanding that it’s a journey not a destination), of the aggregated vision of all of us empowered to “own the process” and offer our input and/or feedback but otherwise to exert no discernible influence and/or effect, i.e., none, on the strategic objectives and/or outcomes as we proceed, insofar as little, i.e., nothing has changed except that some orange boxes were switched to green on the goal-mapping chart, then back again.

That’s the plan. In a nutshell. It’s crystal clear to me – transparent, even – what path we must take going forward from this point of departure.

A long-booked day off took me out of the office one day this week, and believe me when I say how sorry I was to miss an all-staff meeting at which all was made manifestly clear. And I shot 58, with two (!) holes-in-one; on the front nine I fixed the world monetary crisis, on the back I solved global warming.

None of the above may be precisely true, except that I did play golf one day. What is clear, by now, is I think too much, which is a bigger problem in my golf game than my work life, where it doesn’t matter what I think.

I’m working on some things, with a teacher, and I worked on all of them on every swing on every hole. Judging by the results and/or measurables, that was maybe not the way to go to achieve strategic clarity in my golf game.

In government, we love acronyms, and we are especially fond of KISS, which stands, as you know, for Keep It Simple, Dumb Shit.

Teacher’s Corner: Cassidy talks the talk

Lesson No. 1 with John Cassidy, a 32-year-old teaching professional at Alderbrook Golf Club in Union, Wash. First impression: He makes sense.

And he’s kind, fully realizing it’s not just my golf swing he holds in his teacher hands. Golf is important, and I’m fragile … he could crush me like yesterday’s roadkill if he chose.

But he won’t … he’s Dr. John.

John Cassidy

John Cassidy

The rules of our engagement say that John can interject in this space wherever he wants, to correct the incorrect or poorly expressed, to offer his own impressions, to talk the talk that teachers talk when they talk about the golf swing.

Here, he talks in italics.

Bart, I can see you’re understanding the words I say and the positions we’re trying to accomplish. What I feel I gave you and what I try to give all my students in the first lessons is a base for us to add the different colors and images so we can turn the blank canvas into a work of art.

But even great art doesn’t come together at once. It’s a process. And I can’t stress that enough: getting better at golf is a process, and unfortunately it’s not always a constant process of getting better. Peaks and valleys, peaks and valleys … We eventually do things wrong enough times that we figure out how to do it right most of the time.

Dr. John said my setup and grip were good. Then he made a small grip suggestion, and incorporating it made the single biggest difference of our first hour together: keep the thumb pad of my right hand firm against my left thumb, and keep the last three fingers of my left hand firmly wrapped around the club grip, throughout the swing.

The grip, if we hold the club correctly, allows our hands to work in a way that hinges the club for power yet allows the club design to square the club naturally to our swing plane, without much conscious effort.

So simple, but when I do it right I feel instantly firmed up, not so flippy, way stronger. I don’t expect it will be the most dramatic change in my swing or promote the biggest improvement, in the end. But this small thing resonated, and I was able to take it right to the course.

I believe what we accomplished in the first lesson was a starting point for us to build feels and movements toward a more efficient and on-plane swing. In the next lesson we’ll see how things went. We’ll add more if the things we worked on are transferring, or continue to work on the things that aren’t.

Ideally, I want Bart to understand his swing and for Bart to be able to diagnose what went right or wrong on a particular shot. I definitely think you understand what we’re doing, Bart. What I hope to teach you is an understanding of WHY the things we’re working on are important.

The proper rotation of the shoulders accomplishes a few things; very importantly, it allows us to coil our body against a stable lower body, which will create more clubhead speed. More importantly, it allows us to make a full backswing while still keeping our hands in front of our chest at the top of the backswing. The more the hands stay in front of our chest on the way back, the easier it will be to return them to the same place at the most important part of the swing: impact.

Impact is the only truly important part of any golf swing. It’s the only thing that tells the ball where to go. No matter how you get there, if you’re in a good impact position, the ball can do nothing but good things in the air.

“Nothing but good things in the air.” I like this guy.

Teacher’s Corner: John Cassidy

John Cassidy (left) with a student at Alderbrook

John Cassidy (left) with a student at Alderbrook

BEEN THERE, tried that, found this, did that.

At 32, John Cassidy is no old man. But he’s been around.

“I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time working and playing and learning a lot from a lot of different people,” says Cassidy, a teaching professional at Alderbrook Golf Club in Union, Wash. “I think I’ve worked on every single thing a person can work on in his golf swing. I have a lot of knowledge and information.”

Cassidy was a standout player at the University of Nevada in Reno and played a couple seasons on the Canadian Tour (now known as PGA Tour Canada). Through the years, he’s worked with a who’s who of West Coast teachers of the game, including Joe Thiel, Jeff Coston and Shawn Callahan.

He still has passion for playing the game — and still knows how to win a golf tournament. He closed with a second-round 64 to top the field at the Polar Bear Open at The Cedars at Dungeness in Sequim, Wash., in late January.

These days, he’s equally passionate about teaching.

“Teaching for me is very natural,” he says. “It’s a hard game. It’s hard for everyone. When I help someone in a golf lesson, it’s fun.

“The trial and error in my own golf game helps me get (students) on the right track a little faster.”

The first thing Cassidy wants to know when he first meets a student: “What do they want to get out of their lesson? One maybe just wants to lose the slice, others to be as good as they can be.”

The golf ball, he says, can only go where the golf club tells it at impact. By listening to and watching his students, he can get the information he needs to help them feel what they’re doing and be able to tell the difference between what they feel … and what’s real.

“Golf’s tough,” he says. “Sometimes you just need to have that one thing said to you in the way that clicks with you.”

Practice, he says, really can make you better.

“I guarantee, if you put the time in and work on the right things, you will improve in golf.”

Five-Minute Lesson
If Cassidy was seeing a student for the first time and had only five minutes, the first thing he would address is the grip.

“If their grip is poor, fixing it is the No. 1 thing to make the biggest difference,” he says. “You’ve got to get them hanging onto the club correctly. It’s a lot easier and a lot more natural if the hands are on there the right way.”

After grip, he’d look at setup, ball position, and — given just the five minutes —  “If I could get them to turn correctly, that’s all I probably would try to get accomplished.”

John Cassidy teaches at Alderbrook Golf Club in Union, Wash. Reach him at (360) 898-2560 at the course, (360) 791-5053 by cell or at jc3golf@gmail.com.