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On Turning Cogs and Darwinian Golf

You’ve probably done this at least once in your life, but just for a few seconds humour me here; close your eyes and picture yourself as a PGA Tour golfer. 

Before you immerse yourself too deeply into the fantasy and start propositioning random waffle waitresses and rippers, don’t imagine that you are one of the Tour’s big stars.  For the purposes of this little exercise, you are not one of the guys who is consistently making cuts and raking in huge gobs of cash.  

Instead, picture yourself as a journeyman golfer; one of the guys who misses more than his fair share of cuts and isn’t neck-deep in monstrously huge endorsement deals and a steady flow of appearance fees.

Be creative.  Really get into it.  Feel the experience of car-pooling from event to event with other journeymen golfers, sharing gas costs.  Soak up the atmosphere of weeks on end, hunkered down in an endless collection of non-descript Howard Johnsons or Super 8 Motels…your clubs and shoes perched near the radiator every night to dry off, laundry, rinsed in the sink, now hanging up on the shower curtain rack.

Now picture yourself playing your guts out for 36 holes…2 days of grinding on the course de jour, to put together the best score you can possibly muster. 

And, despite your very best efforts, you fall short of the mark and don’t make the cut.  It might have been by a single stroke, it might have been by ten or twenty twacks.  It doesn`t matter, really…the result is exactly the same.

No weekend for you.  No TV coverage. No getting your parents to tape the coverage for you as Jim Nance languidly lulls over your name as he covers the highlights of the day, or runs down the names atop the leaderboard.

No anything…and that includes no pay my friends!

“Hey, great try there buddy.  Sorry ‘bout that quad you took on the par four, 18th.  Writing dog balls on your scorecard is always a tough way to finish a round, especially when you were inside the cut line so comfortably up until then.  Oh well, see ya next week.  Buh-bye!”

And to me, that’s one of the things that make golf such a compellingly interesting and pure sport.  You play well; you earn money.  You play badly; not a shekel.  It’s another week of Kraft Dinner and bowls of hot water with ketchup, sleeping at Ho-Jo`s and schlepping to the next event in a car pool.  No tickee, no laundry.

Compare that with the other sports you might follow and the differences are beyond considerable; they`re downright startling. 

No matter how well, or poorly, Cristiano Ronaldo plays, Real Madrid still pays him about a million Euros…a week!  Hell, he makes that much even if he doesn’t play at all.  Change the numbers (down) and the same scenario applies to your favourite football, baseball, basketball or hockey star.  Guaranteed dough to the end of your contract…and lots of it. 

Can`t play this week?  Here`s a cheque anyway.  Having a bad streak?  Oh well, here`s some money to help pay for the Bentley `til you shake it off.  Got a boo-boo?  Maybe a few hundred thou in cold, hard cash will make it feel better this week.

Can you imagine if the other sports had pay structures the same as golf? 

Ronaldo and all the rest of the players wouldn`t make a dime until they headed into the locker room at half time to see if the coach thought their performance was up to scratch and worth a paycheque!  Wrap your head around that idea for a second!

Come to think of it, that would make every second of any sport a whole lot more interesting and action-packed, don`t you think?  Everyone busting their asses every second of every game, just to earn their pay that week.  It would also probably reduce a player`s career life expectancy to about 3 or 4 seasons.  After that amount of time, even the greatest players probably just wouldn`t be able to hack it anymore.

Charles Darwin would have been a big fan of the PGA Purse structure; it`s survival of the fittest, played out 40+ weeks of the year. Half of you will be going home this week with no money.  The rest of you can stay and keep playing and we`ll have some nice, fat cheques to hand out on Sunday night.

Kind of takes a little of the joy out of playing “let`s make believe we`re a PGA Tour golfer,“ doesn`t it?  When you really concentrate and consider everything a journeyman golfer has to go through every week, it`s suddenly not nearly as much fun as sinking imaginary U-Boats in the bathtub on Saturday night.

And then there are the PGA Playoffs.  If you got cold sweats thinking your way through the scenario above, then you`re in for a nasty extra jolt of reality now friends.

The cut is still there of course, but now it carries even more weight!  Once the Playoffs begin, making the cut doesn`t just earn you the privilege of playing on the weekend and earning some money, it also decides whether or not you get to play for the rest of the month and earn a living!  Have a couple of bad days and you`ll go without golf or golfing income until the Fall Swing begins. 

You know the Fall Swing…the tournaments that absolutely no one on Tour wants to have to play.  Oh sure, they might be nice for a late season lark, or to earn a few extra bucks for the addition on the back of the mansion…but, if you`re teetering on the verge of losing your playing card for next season, they`re no fun at all if you have to play them for a shot at your very survival.

But wait…there`s more!

No, I`m not going to offer you a set of Ginzu steak knives, or a second electric orange peeler (just pay extra shipping and handling), when it comes to the Deutsche Bank Championship, I`m talking about the cut after the cut. 

It`s probably the cruellest cut of all.  You played well enough to make it to the weekend, but not well enough to make it to the next stage of the Playoffs.  In this year`s Deutsche Bank, 100 golfers qualified to enter and 78 ended up making the cut.  The problem is, there`s only room for the top 70 players at the next event.

So, even after gutting your way through the first two days of play AND making the cut, you can still find yourself on the outside looking in.  How nasty is that?

Last week 8 guys leap-frogged their way into the BMW Championship, while 8 guys were left stranded on a desert isle.  And they wonn`t even have Maryann and Ginger there to console them.  Or Mrs. Howell, for that matter.  You remember her?  Charles the third’s mom?

Mr. Els, Mr. Reavie, Messrs. Adams, Campbell, Romero, Wagner, Ogilvy and Stroud; here are your boarding passes to Cog Hill.  Enjoy the trip!

Hang on a minute there Mr. Kim.  You need to be this tall ^ to go on this ride and I`m afraid you don`t measure up.  Same for you Mr. Na, Messrs. Streelman, Garrigus, Perez, Wi, Frazar and Blanks.  Here`s some Rice-A-Roni…don`t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out of the scoring trailer!  And Mr. Perez, please refrain from burying your pitching wedge into the parking lot again.

And that`s where we find ourselves now.  The herd has been thinned.  The slow and the lame have been eaten by the strong and cunning down at the watering hole.  The 70 strongest have survived. 

Until this weekend that is, when we get out the weedwhacker, do it all over again and cull this group down to 30!

So then, before we start gazing into the crystal ball for this week`s big Playoff event, let`s pause for a quick look in the rear view mirror and see how my daughter and I did with our picks for Round #2.

Results – The Deutsche Bank Championship

Derek’s Picks D&D (Daughter & Dartboard)
Steve Stricker

T42

 $          24,576 Chad Campbell

T21

 $              86,400
Luke Donald

T3

 $         416,000 Harrison Frazar

Cut

Matt Kuchar

T25

 $          61,067 Charl Schwartzel

T21

 $              86,400
Jason Day

T3

 $         416,000 Camilo Villegas

T25

 $              61,067
This Week’s Total  $         917,643 This Week’s Total  $            233,867
Season Total  $    17,291,961 Season Total  $         5,709,521

Overall, the old man was 50-50 with his picks.  Two were bordering on brilliant, while the other two were surprisingly poor.  If they don`t play better next week, Stricker and Kuchar better take a long, hard look around the watering hole before they stoop over for a drink.  And let`s just forget about my `guy to watch` forecast on Vijay for last week, shall we?  I blame that on the Appletons.

The BMW Championship

Only two more events to go until the PGA hands out a $10 million bonus cheque to someone…and a bucket full of spare millions to the also-rans too.  If it isn`t pucker time for the remaining guys now, you can bet they are all heading into Cog Hill at least a little more water-tight than they were all season.

The trick to picking the right horses this week is to see who is on form now, and, more importantly, who has the head and nerves to withstand the incredible pressure.  Will we see another surprise from the pack a la Webb Simpson and Chez Reavie, or will one of the faithful stalwart stars step up to hoist the trophy?

Derek`s Picks

Jim Furyk – It`s time to shuffle the deck a little bit and change some horses on my team.  This squad will not be a full re-hash of my Playoff selections for the past two weeks…and my first change is to drag Jim Furyk out of mothballs.

6 or 8 weeks ago, Furyk would have been one of the last guys I would have selected.  If you`re totally honest with yourself, you probably would have said the same thing too.  I took Furyk a few times early in the year, assuming he`d be running on a full head of steam after winning the whole Playoff enchilada last season…but he has consistently failed to impress all season long.  On the course, he looked about as threatening as the Taco Bell dog.

Until Playoff time, that is.

Now that the astronomical FedEx bucks are on the line once again, Furyk seems to have magically re-energized himself to play some serious golf.  Heading into the Playoffs, he finished in 9th place at the Wyndham…only his second top 10 showing of the year, believe it or not!  He then followed up with a solid performance at The Barclays and a 6th place finish at the Deutsche Bank last week.

Where the hell was this guy all year?

Now that Furyk has returned to form, he should be a solid pick this week at Cog Hill.  In his last 4 outings here, his worst finish was 15th place…and that was last year.  He`s also come in second place in 2009 and 3rd place the year before that, with a 14th in `08. 

Camilo Villegas – Here`s another guy who has been virtually AWOL for most of the 2011 season.  Coming into the Playoffs, he, like Furyk, only had two top 10 finishes all year…and, like Furyk, one of those was a 9th at the Wyndham the week before the knock-out phase began.

Even though his Playoff performances haven`t been exactly inspiring so far this year, I`m taking Villegas because of the way he plays on this particular course.  At Cog Hill, Camilo is pure gold baby!

Since the Playoffs began 4 years ago, the worst he has done on this track is T11th in 2010.  Add to that a T8 finish in 2009, T7 in 2007 and a win in 2008 and no one in the field this week has a better resume on this plot of land.

If Villegas can feed off his past glories around this property, he should be a real contender this week at Cog Hill.

Luke Donald – Donald put in one of his poorer performances of the 2011 season at the Playoff-opening Barclays a few weeks ago and he still finished in the top 20! 

Think of his missed cut at The Open Championship and maybe even his T17 finish in Vancouver as a brief case of hiccups in an otherwise brilliant year.

While I`m all for breaking things up and injecting some new blood (for me) on the squad this week with the likes of Furyk and Villegas, I think it would be pure lunacy to drop Luke from the mix.  Donald has been a big game hunter on Tour all season…and the bigger the prize, the more he seems to be able to put himself in contention to grab the trophy.  As we draw nearer to the Playoff`s big prize, there`s no reason to expect that Donald won`t be totally focused and ready to put in another threatening performance this week at the BMW.  Even though he hasn`t come terribly close to winning on this course (his best finish was T10 in 2009), I think Donald can be expected to give us his best performance this weekend at Cog Hill.

Adam Scott – Last week my strategy of dumping an Aussie for an Aussie was either brilliant or silly.  I turfed Scott for Day…and since they both finished in the top 10 (Day 3rd and Scott 8th) I really couldn`t have gone very wrong with either guy.  Fortunately for me, the guy I traded for put in the better of the two performances.

I guess if I had really been on the (crystal) ball, I should have played both Aussies and dumped a yank like Kuchar or Stricker instead.  But let`s face it, there were a LOT of good reasons to go with both of them last week in Boston.

This week I`m going to stick with my strategy of having an Aussie on the squad, but I`m going to flip-flop back to Scott, rather than hanging onto Day.  This might seems a bit questionable, given that day finished a few strokes better at the Deutsche Bank last week, but I`m basing this move on present form AND past performance…and in that category Scott comes out on top. 

Since the inception of the Playoffs, Adam has posted two top 15 finishes here.  He came in T15 last year and recorded his best finish on this course back in 2007, when he ended up in 4th place.  Day, by comparison, hasn`t really done anything here.  No top 10 finishes…bagel top 20 finishes.  Advantage Scott.

And now that I`ve had my say, let`s head down to the recroom and see what magic my daughter has managed to whip up this week on the dartboard:

D&D`s Picks (Daughter & Dartboard)

  •          Chez Reavie
  •          K.J. Choi
  •          Rory Sabbatini
  •          Chris Kirk

And that`s all for this week folks.  As always, thanks very much for reading and playing along…and enjoy the tourney!

Cheers,

Derek

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