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Comments on the PGA Championship.--

On Tuesday, I went out to the Chicago suburbs to watch the pro golfers playing a practice round for this week's 4-day PGA Championship. The first of four rounds is underway today. The course is Medinah #3, which has hosted several major championships before. The course had more hills and was more interesting than I expected, though it still didn't strike me as one of the country's very best. I also favor seaside links courses (without trees), rather than parkland courses with lots of trees, such as Medinah.

Although Medinah is the longest course in major championship history, I expect that scores will be fairly low. The fairways are narrow, but the first cut of rough (about 2 yards wide) is cut so short that the lies should be perfect in that first rough. And the main rough, though very dense, is not as long as I expected it to be. From tee to green, I don't think that the rough will be nearly as serious a hazard as the commentators think it will. There will be mostly good lies in the rough; the trees are a more serious hazard and, even with the trees, there are few branches low enough to interfere with a player's backswing. So far a lot of players who are missing the fairways are still hitting the greens in regulation. Around the greens, the rough is long enough that it will be a little more problem to judge those delicate shots to the pin. The condition of the course is superb (apparently unlike the conditioning when the last PGA championship was held there in 1999). From the outside, the clubhouse looked huge and strange (it echoes Arabic motifs, since the club was founded by the Shriners). Because my father was a Shriner and a terrific golfer (captain of the team in college at Northwestern), he played the course many times, but I had never seen it.

Tuesdays are usually the best day to watch practice rounds because play is so slow on Wednesdays that some players don't even bother to play the course on Wednesdays. Both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson skipped the course itself on Wednesday. On Tuesday, as usual for Tiger, Woods went out early in the morning. He skipped the holes 14-17 and finished before 10am, despite the very slow play. In the holes I watched, after hitting to the greens, Tiger generally didn't bother to putt to the hole, but rather dropped balls in the rough and chipped to the places on the green where he thought that the pins were likely to be during the tournament itself. Because the greens are so small and the rough around the green is thick, I think that players wanted to practice chipping. When Phil Mickelson reached the green, he would usually take a quick putt toward the hole. Then one of his coaches, the short-game guru Dave Pelz, would stick little flags in the ground where he thought pins would be, and Phil would practice lag putting to those little flags. Some other players putted to white discs that their caddies dropped on the greens.

I followed John Daly for a while; he hit some great shots, as well as some bad ones. Off the tee, he was long and accurate with either a driver or a 3-wood. He was having trouble hitting greens with his irons and put his first tee shot on 17 in the water. Daly's foursome was clearly frustrated by having to wait for the group ahead, which swelled to a fivesome at one point (Davis Love, Chris DiMarco, Jeff Sluman, Scott Verplank, and Geoff Ogilvy). That might explain a comment I overheard Pat Perez (playing with Daly) say, "Imagine if one of us tried to do that, they'd go crazy." I also overheard caddies talking when they were waiting in the fairway for their players to hit; they talked about mortgages, health insurance coverage, children, ex-wives, and each other's health problems.

Very few players signed autographs on the course, either putting their heads down between holes to avoid eye contact or saying that they would sign after their rounds were over (which I saw some of them doing later). One exception to avoiding on-course autographs was John Daly, who would grab a hat or banner (as he walked briskly) and sign it, tossing it back into the small crowd; in that way he signed about 3-4 items between each hole.

Davis Love was really struggling on the course. He is a likely discretionary captain's pick for one of the last two spots on the US Ryder Cup team, which will be announced on Monday. Despite his experience, nothing I saw would suggest that he would be a smart pick for the team. [UPDATE: So much for my judgment! After 12 holes, Davis Love is tied for first at 6 under par.]

I watched about 15 players hitting balls on the range on Tuesday. I thought that two stood out, hitting consistently pure iron shots: Brett Quigley and Luke Donald. Donald, an Englishman who went to Northwestern, is in second place as I write this, but Quigley has yet to tee off.

James Lindgren (mail):
Davis Love began his round with 2 birdies.
8.17.2006 3:19pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
Looks like Lindgren is taking out his number-two pencil, no wait a minute, he's going for the keyboard...he's going to blog using a keyboard, can you believe it? Now all's quiet in the gallery as the crowd awaits Lindgren's next move. He is sizing up the topic, and now moves into position. He types, and--can you believe it, folks--he's just published an essay. A Cinderella story. This gutty kid from the mean streets of inner-city Philadelphia really knows to blog!
8.17.2006 3:26pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
or how to blog (really ruins the joke when you frack up the typing)
8.17.2006 3:29pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Thanks, Divagator.

Hey, but I type mostly with one finger.

And I used to play barefoot much of the time in the summers growing up.

So it would be a Cinderella story.

Want to hear my Carl Spackler imitation?

BTW, Davis Love is now -4 midway through the first nine, with the fastest start in the field. So much for my predicting ability.
8.17.2006 4:05pm
The Divagator (mail) (www):
just try not to blow up the course...happy gopher hunting!
8.17.2006 4:38pm
James Lindgren (mail):
And I spent 2 summers (before and after my first year of college) working on the grounds crew of a county golf course.

The second summer I was the night waterer. Now that was one of the best jobs I ever had . . . .
8.17.2006 4:54pm
BobDoyle (mail):
Hi Jim,

Hmmmm... Davis is -6 for the front nine!

Say, who do you think is NOT going to win the SuperBowl this year? I want to get my bet down early!

Aside -- Gonna be dropping son off at UC next month. Where do suggest I try to arrange to play a round?
8.17.2006 5:24pm
Dar (mail):
I'd recommend taking a look at GolfNow.com. They list several courses in the Chicago area and offer discounted tee times at relative short-notice (i.e. tee times that the course may have not yet filled and are willing to discount). You might be able to get a decent rate at some of the Chicago courses.

I live out in the Seattle area, so I can't recommend any Chicago courses unfortunately!
8.17.2006 6:04pm
Pete Freans (mail):
As a lefty myself, Phil Mickelson is a hero of sorts for me. When I was a young golfer, many older golfers told me I should switch to righ-hand before it's too late, most golfers are right-handed, clubs would be easier to come-by, etc, etc. Mickelson's wins at the Masters in 04 and last year's PGA Championship was a vindication of sorts for lefties. Watching him with Tiger is a real treat.
8.17.2006 6:51pm
James Lindgren (mail):
It depends on how much you want to spend. Golfweek lists these courses as the best in the Chicago area (listed by state ranking for courses open to the public):

1. Cog Hill #4, Lemont
7. Pine Meadow, Mundelein
8. Kemper Lakes, Long Grove
9. Cantigny, Wheaton
10. Glen Club, Glenview

None of these are close to downtown or UC. Pine Meadow and Cantigny are, I think, a bit cheaper than the other three. I hear that Kemper Lakes is very overrated, but I haven't played it.

The easiest of these 5 to get to from the UC area is Cog Hill #4, which is about 45 min. SW of downtown (take Lake Shore Dr. to Interstate 55 most of the way, which is the least crowded of the major Chicago expressways), if traffic isn't too bad. That is where they have played the Western Open for a long time. It is a very good course, but not fabulous, esp. for $135. The other courses at Cog Hill are a better deal, but nothing special. Most of the others on the list above are ridiculously long drives, given traffic if you go at all close to rush hour.

The two public courses that I would recommend (in part because they are 20-30 minutes from the UC area) are ones that used to be on the lists of the top 100 public courses, but have been bumped off the lists for better courses:


1. Harborside

2. George Dunne National

Harborside is fairly close to UC (about 50 blocks south of campus), built on top of an old dump. The course itself looks like a number of fairly fancy modern resort courses ("country club for a day"), but the area around it is a bombed out industrial wasteland, making for some bizarre juxtapositions of views. Personally, Harborside (Port Course is a tad better than Starboard Course) is where I'd go for a single round.

George Dunne is a more straightforward and older parkland layout--nothing special, but a solid course and a bit cheaper.

If all you want to do is play, there are two cheap public courses within 5-8 blocks of campus: Jackson Park (18 holes), the oldest public course in the Midwest, and South Shore (9 holes). Both are boring, very short, and very flat, and South Shore is very tight off the tees. But if you just have a few hours, you can play on those courses, but I wouldn't actually recommend them, as they are poor courses in poor shape.
8.17.2006 6:53pm
James Lindgren (mail):
BobDoyle:

I also thought that Kerry would win the 2004 election, so betting against my pick in the Super Bowl sounds like a good strategy to me.
8.17.2006 6:57pm
Shake-N-Bake (www):
If you are going to be coming back in future years, I would try to play Kemper Lakes this year, as this is the final year of it being a public course before it goes private club next year. You can hit the others in other years.

Harborside is a good choice too, the normal quality place to head for city-dwelling golfers like myself and my friends. Cantigny is very nice. Cog Hill #4 (Dubsdread) is the only good course at Cog, the others are nowhere near the level of #4. #'s 1-3 are all very easy courses. I rarely shot below 90 when I played regularly, and even I shot in the upper 70's on Cog #1, and it hardly was my best round (88 at Butler National is still what I consider my best).
8.17.2006 7:59pm
Pete Freans (mail):
Incidentally, I'll be visiting Chicago this weekend and I am new to the area. Is there a way to get to the PGA Championship from the Loop without a car? I noticed the tickets are a bit pricey ($100), assuming they are available Any good restaurant recommendations would be welcomed as well. Thanks.
8.17.2006 8:22pm
BobDoyle (mail):
Thanks Jim,

I play at the Merion Golf Club outside Philly and given its rep and the connections of members with USGA and the interest other clubs sometimes have in making some kind of reciprocal accomodation I've found I can sometimes get access to private clubs that might not generally let just anybody play. And if I'm going to lug my clubs out to Chicago and stay an extra day to play, I'm not necessarily interested in spending a fortune, but I really do not mind spending a reasonably pricy sum for a top quality course. Given that, which of the private clubs would you suggest I shoot for if you would consider any of them better golfing experiences than those you've already mentioned? Chicago?, North Shore? Butler? Olympia Fields?, Point O Woods? Bob O'Link? ... somewhere else???
8.17.2006 8:24pm
BobDoyle (mail):
Thanks also Shake-N-Bake!
8.17.2006 8:33pm
James Lindgren (mail):
BobDoyle:

Ah, a man with connections . . . a different question.

Most of the time that I play 18 holes I play as a guest at Beverly CC (#87 on Golfweek's Classic list) or Lost Dunes in MI (#54 on GW's Modern list).

If I had my choice of Chicago courses, I would definitely choose two that I haven't played: the historic Chicago GC in Wheaton, a Seth Raynor/ CB Macdonald course, and Shoreacres in Lake Bluff, also a Raynor course. I am a huge fan of Raynor's work, and these are the top 2 IL courses on GW's Classics list (## 11 &27). Chicago GC hosted 3 US Opens and is supposed to be hard to get on.
Merion (#7) would be a nice trade for Chicago GC (#11), and, although Shoreacres (#27) is not nearly as famous as these two, that would be my second choice (by reputation).

On the classics list, I think Olympia Fields is slightly overrated at 41 (though a very good course that I had fun playing), Medinah is 57, Skokie is 72, and Beverly is 87 (Beverly is convenient to U. Chicago; several UC economists play there). Beverly is a very pleasant Donald Ross course in excellent condition, but it is not unusually memorable. I think that Olympia Fields, Medinah, and Beverly have large memberships and are thus relatively easy to get on. I'm not familiar with Point O Woods in MI, which you mention, but it is by RT Jones, whose work I usually don't like. On the modern list, I haven't played Butler (#35 Modern), but I generally like (co-designer) Tom Fazio courses (I've heard mixed things about Butler).

Among others not on GW's list, I've heard good things about North Shore CC, and I've played the Glen View Club several times, an excellent course of modest length and difficulty. They played the 1904 US Open there, and several of the club pros years ago were major championship winners. These last two are both in Glenview.
8.18.2006 1:57am
James Lindgren (mail):
Pete Freans,

Yes, it would be better to take a Metra train from Union Station and then a free 5 minute shuttle bus ride to the course than to drive (if you drive, parking is about 30-40 minutes from the course).

http://metrarail.com/Special_Promotions/2006_pga.html
http://metrarail.com/Sched/md_w/md_w.shtml#STATION

There are so many restaurants at so many price levels that it is hard to recommend one.

For steaks, Gibson's (crowded and noisy) is best. We also like the much quieter Capital Grille.

For family Italian just N of downtown (not fancy but good and reasonably priced), we like Maggiano's on Clark.

For pizza, our favorite is the seedy original Uno's on Wabash, though we usually do takeout.

For ribs (and au gratins), we like Carson's on Wells (atmosphere is not its strong suit; again, we usually do takeout).

For simple northern Italian, we like Cafe Pazzo.

There is a very good cafeteria in Water Tower Place: Food Life.

For medium priced French bistro food, we like La Sardine (west of the Loop). Brasserie Jo and Bistro 110 are good as well.

For expensive, high end food, there are lots of good places, including MK and Charlie Trotters (Trotters is very expensive).
8.18.2006 2:17am
James Lindgren (mail):
Pete:

Scalpers are legal in Illinois, so tickets are DEFINITELY available from legal scalpers, most of which are quite reliable. Google "ticket brokers Chicago". Your hotel might suggest which ones are closest to where you are staying (and most reliable). You can pay by VISA, so the risk is not too bad.
8.18.2006 2:22am
James Lindgren (mail):
BobDoyle,

Oh, and you can take a safe train from downtown or the UC campus directly to the Olympia Fields course (you would want to confirm exactly how close it stops).
8.18.2006 2:34am
Pete Freans (mail):
Thank you Professor, I appreciate the recommendations. I will refer to your blog thread as I tour the city looking for a meal. Who need Zagat's?
8.18.2006 8:37am
Shake-N-Bake (www):
I love Butler (caddied there for several years) but it might not be easy to get onto. Nastiest stretch of holes in the middle of the round you'll ever see (holes 6 through 10 are the toughest on the course -- 455 yard par 4, 600+ yard par 5, tight par 3 w/ lots of trees and water, tight 420 yard par 4 uphill, and one of the nastiest under 400 yard par 4's you'll ever see (when the Western was played there it regularly played as one of the toughest holes on Tour)).

More favorite restaurants, limiting it to the downtown area, and not doubling up on the Professor's recommendations:
Blackbird (a little west of the loop, highly recommended, even in the decor is a bit odd)
Keefer's (my personal favorite of the steak places)
Nick's Fishmarket
Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak, and Stone Crab (related to Joe's Stone Crab in Miami)

If you like Middle Eastern food at all, Kan Zaman is pretty good, and it's BYOB with a reasonable corkage fee. There's a Binny's Beverage Depot about a block away to grab a bottle of wine to bring in.
8.18.2006 1:43pm
James Lindgren (mail):
I almost listed Keefer's. It is indeed excellent. Both Nick's and Joe's are very good, but quite expensive for good seafood.
8.18.2006 4:21pm
Lev:
Golf is almost as interesting as soccer.

"If you look at soccer and the way that it's played, whether it's in the men's game or the women's game, it's fascinating. We're moving a ball up and down with our feet." US women's soccer coach

Fascinating
8.19.2006 1:20am