Sunday afternoon’s media outing at TPC Harding Park, hosted by Nike Golf, along with former USGA president Sandy Tatum, was a blast. As always, it’s the company that makes all the difference more often than not. I wasn’t sure what to expect and didn’t know who would be there (believe it or not, I haven’t gone to many of these media outings–have only been doing this for how long? Not very long). I was just happy to be there!
Here’s a clip of our group — Golf World’s Michael Johnson, ESPN’s Michael Collins, Golf Digest’s Marty Hackel and yours truly — having some fun and clowning on each other on the 1st tee (shotgun start — we started on No. 4).
I was also looking forward to playing Harding Park and getting a little behind-the-scenes info on the Nike TW ’13 shoe. When I walked into the clubhouse conference room, where the Tobie Hatfield’s presentation took place, I thought I accidentally stumbled into a remote media center for the U.S. Open.
Tobie, who worked with Tiger to develop the Nike Free-Inspired TW’13, gave us a run-down on the process. He’s a shoe scientist and the man behind Nike-FREE technology. He has worked with the world’s greatest athletes in developing their footwear to perform on their sports’ greatest stage. “He has worked with extremely close with Tiger on developing this shoe,” according to the Nike release.
What are the chances Tiger will break out the black version of these kicks? Oh, slim to none. That was obviously a question and Tobie, along with a Nike rep, explained Tiger doesn’t want to change them once he finds something he likes (whether it be color or what-have-you) and he gets into his zone. You know, why fix something that ain’t broke…I think the shoe color preference is more of a superstitious thing. Nothing wrong with that. Stick with what you’re most comfortable in, right? Of course, I’ve seen the Nike golfers outfit scripting for the U.S. Open and Tiger is supposed to wear the black pair twice, but as we know, we’ll see the white ones all week.
Mr.Tatum made some remarks about TPC Harding Park prior to the shotgun start. He was the champion of the movement to restore the golf course to its former glory.
Here now, Tobie talks with ESPN’s Mike Collins about the Nike shoe he designed for the Special Forces (see below). Tobie showed the boots to him, thinking Tiger would appreciate them because of his passion for the military, especially the Special Forces. Tiger’s response to Tobie? “Oh yeah, I have a pair.” Of course, he already did, right!
Harding Park didn’t disappoint. I haven’t had that much fun playing golf in a while (obviously part of it had to do with the company — we’re all buddies, so there were lots of laughs, talking during swinging and while others swinging, etc. (not in a way that it was bad etiquette — we just kept things light despite our very competitive cart vs. cart match). The course isn’t that challenging, but it’s crucial to hit fairways.
Luckily, there’s a lot of room off the tee, so you don’t have to be absolutely perfect, but if you do miss in the rough, it can be penalizing depending on your lie. The rough was relatively heavy, but not consistent, so you could end up with a decent lie. Still, it was tough to control the ball and keep it on the green. Precise iron play was premium (which makes sense why Tiger and Stricker dominated at the ’09 Presidents Cup).
The greens were relatively small — I only 3-putted once, which is telling — but there were sections and you had to land the ball or make sure you hit that part of the green. For example, you might have thought you knocked it to 3 feet to an up pin, only to find that it rolled to the back of the green because the green slopes from front-to-back. Sometimes it was tough to get it really, really close (within 5-8 feet), or perhaps my iron play sucks. I’m just riffing here with random thoughts and my impressions, so feel free to correct me.
While Olympic is completely different and 20-times more challenging and grueling, not to mention, firmer and faster conditions, gnarlier rough, extremely narrow fairways, and the works, I felt like playing just down the road at Harding Park was helpful in preparation for covering the U.S. Open — in the sense that it gave me an idea of how the ball reacts out of the rough, the release, spin, roll, slightly-sloped fairways, and the impact of the breeze off the Pacific, milder temperatures and thinner air.
Honestly, I didn’t feel like I lost any distance. In fact, I felt like it was playing so firm that I kept over-clubbing. It’s tough to judge at times because of the elevation changes. But hey, I grew up playing on the West Coast on these kinds of tracks…wait, that was a long time ago! I should also note it was much warmer on Sunday than it’s expected to be during the tournament rounds.
Final tally: Steph, 78; Marty, 78; Mike Johnson, 74; Mike Collins, 81.
If you watch the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, then you’re probably aware that JP McManus is the biggest sandbagger in the western hemisphere. Well, he’s got some competition with Mike Johnson, who is supposedly a “7-handicap”…Pfffftttt…When I saw him swing at Bandon Dunes, I remember thinking, no way he’s a 7! Well, I got the chance to play with him to confirm my suspicions. He’s more like a 3 IMHO. (I could care less, actually, because I haven’t kept a handicap in 11 years, but I’ve been saving all my scorecards!)
It’s just fun to give him a hard time. I also learned that he’d make a hell of a two-ball partner, but Marty was a darn good clutch putter and carried me when I needed a little lift at the end. Well, we still lost 2&1 (correct me if I’m wrong, but who cares, it was fun — actually, I care. It’s all about bragging rights!).
My fault for losing focus near the end because I was multitasking. Hope you enjoyed my comments in the latest edition of PGA Tour Confidential because my responses were crafted in between shots at Harding Park and cost me a few! I kid, I kid. No excuses. For real.
Mike Collins was playing with a set of rentals –left-handed, no less–so he actually deserves like a 5-shot handicap. OK, that’s a little too generous. He hit it real well, except the flatstick gave him some problems. By problems, I mean, he putted with his purse all day! GET IT TO THE HOLE!
Oh, you’re probably wondering what I thought of the TW ’13 shoes. Believe it or not, I have really, really small feet. I wear a women’s size 5 (narrow). That’s a men’s 3.5. To my disbelief, Nike doesn’t make miniaturized versions of those shoes. (For the 4 women reading this, I think if you’re a 7 or up, the men’s run small enough that they’ll fit you.) Honestly, I wasn’t expecting a substitute, so it was a nice surprise when they handed me a shiny pair of Nike Air Embellish.
I’ve obviously worn a lot of Nikes in my life, but not recently, and I always look at a new shoes skeptically (in golf it’s considered equipment and does indeed make difference). I also wear spikeless kicks more often than I probably should, because the stability you get from spikes — at least with these Nikes — is a world of difference. Maybe that’s why I played decent? Maybe not. One of my swing flaws is moving my body too much (compensating for bad back), so I certainly felt more grounded in the Embellish(es). Most important, they matched my outfit (/five exclamation marks).