Brad Faxon, an eight-time winner on the PGA TOUR, is contributing a monthly blog about his experiences on the Champions Tour, culminating with the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship at the end of June. Last October, Faxon won his first title on the Champions Tour near Houston at the Insperity Championship. June 15, 2012 I'm really looking forward to going back to Pittsburgh in a few weeks to play in the Constellation SENIOR PLAYERS Championship. When I was in college, there was a girl on the Furman golf team who was a senior when I was a freshman who had parents who were members at Oakmont. I remember driving from Rhode Island to Pittsburgh to play Oakmont with her for the first time. I think her parents were also members of the Pittsburgh Field Club as well. I've never played at Fox Chapel Golf Club and I'm looking forward to that. Pittsburgh has some great, great courses and there's actually been a buzz amongst the players on the Champions Tour about going to Fox Chapel for this major championship.
I know Fox Chapel is a Seth Raynor design and the other courses that he's done that I've played have just been terrific. I hate to be an architecture snob, but I love the great old courses. I've played a lot of them and have studied a little bit of architecture. It can be hard to put many architects in front of Seth Raynor. I think many of the things he's done have been copied by more architects than anybody else.
Memories of playing in Pittsburgh? Well in 1983, I played in the U.S. Open at Oakmont as an amateur. I had just graduated from Furman and my dad caddied for me on the Sunday round, which was Father's Day. I'll never forget that, having him caddie for me. I remember being on the 15th tee, playing with D.A. Weibring, when Arnold Palmer was playing the 18th. Arnold's tee shot landed pretty close to the 15th tee. Here I was a 21 year old and D.A. is already a good player on the TOUR. He and I walked down to hit our second shots into the 15th hole and when I got halfway down the fairway, I noticed that my dad was still back on the tee box, watching Arnold hit his second shot into the 18th green. To make matters worse, we were being timed for slow play, so I started screaming at him to catch up with me. It was hysterical, but I did finish as the low amateur that year.
This is, for me, my first summer on the Champions Tour where all the tournaments seem to be compressed into three months and we have five majors. It's a big part of the Tour, and I think there's really some excitement building. I'm seeing some good signs (in my game) and really looking forward to playing the next few events. I know we've got some great, great tournaments coming up. I love going to these places like Pittsburgh where we haven't been in a long time and seeing the excitement that we get from all of the people in the city.
You know, the one thing, Billy Andrade and I used to have our charity golf tournament in Rhode Island and Mario Lemieux would come and play, and Ron Francis, a couple of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and I was always a big hockey fan. To see how well Pittsburgh's done in hockey since Mario's taken over the Penguins has been pretty cool, so hopefully I'll run into him at some point.
May 2, 2012
April was a great month for me. I got to go back to The Masters for the first time in five years to receive the Jim Murray Award at the Golf Writers Association of America annual dinner. I brought my wife down to Augusta along with some other friends for the presentation and it was a special evening. I had been there before in 1999 with Billy Andrade, when we received the Charles Bartlett Award. I knew how big of a show it was and how important the dinner is to the golf writers. I was blown away by how well the GWAA dinner was done and how great all of the speakers were. Luke Donald, Tom Lehman and Yani Tseng were all there for their Player of the Year honors and each was fantastic with their acceptance speech. I don't think anybody could believe how great Sophie Gustafson (Ben Hogan Award) was, and Major Dan Rooney (William D. Richardson Award) might be one of the greatest speakers we'll ever see in our lifetime. Just to be included in the dinner meant a lot to me. I told everybody that night that I had met Jim Murray my first year on the PGA TOUR at the Los Angeles Open and he was a great writer. The next day, I got to go out to Augusta National and watch the first round of the tournament. I hadn't seen the course in a few years so that was fun.
After the Masters, I went down to Tampa for the Encompass Insurance Pro-Am and got to play with a longtime friend of mine, actor/comedian John O'Hurley. We were paired in the first two rounds with Mark Calcavecchia and his partner, former Washington Redskins quarterback Joe Theismann. I've known Calc a long time and we had quite a few people following us for the first two days. I didn't play my best that week and unfortunately O'Hurley and I didn't make the team cut. I still was really impressed at how well that tournament was run and the TPC Tampa Bay course was fantastic.
After Tampa, it was off to Savannah for my first Liberty Mutual Insurance Legends of Golf, the event that really started the Champions Tour. My partner for the week was Jeff Sluman, who actually called me the day I turned 50 and asked me to be his partner in this team event. He might be my closest friend on the Champions Tour and I was really looking forward to playing with him. As it turned out, we shot 27 under and finished third. We were in the thick of it and had a chance on the last day. It was also really cool to play on Sunday with Fred Couples and Jay Haas, two of the most popular guys on the Champions Tour who are great friends.
What was really fun for me was to see Bill Murray out there following us on Sunday. Bill's a good friend of Jeff Sluman and Scott Simpson. Coincidently, my daughter Charlotte was on spring break and was there in Savannah with me and she had just seen the "Ghostbusters" movie two days earlier. On the last hole, Murray hopped in the cart with Sluman's caddie and Charlotte. Murray introduced himself to Charlotte as Dr. Peter Venkman, his character in the movie, which was really cool. Once they were all in the cart, CBS showed them on national television and that was another highlight of the week for me.
One of the great things about the Legends is seeing players you haven't seen in a while. When I first got to Savannah, I ran into Lee Trevino. Everybody loves talking to Lee. I also saw Hubert Green, Homero Blancas and Don January who I hadn't run into in quite a long time. Some of these guys can still play some pretty good golf.
Michael Allen is off to quite a start on the Champions Tour this year. I'm off to Houston to defend my first title on the Champions Tour at the Insperity Championship.
April 2, 2012
I had three weeks off before playing in the Toshiba Classic and that was really new to me. I willingly never took that much time off between events on the PGA TOUR, but the break gave me the chance to do a few things prior to resuming my playing schedule on the Champions Tour in Southern California.
I was fortunate enough to play in the pro-member at Seminole Golf Club with my buddy, Tom Ryan, the ex-CEO at CVS Pharmacy. We played in the same group with Seth Waugh, my good friend from Deutsche Bank, and Justin Rose. Justin had just had a fourth place finish at the Honda Classic and went on to win the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral the following week. Justin is one of my good friends and we got to spend some good time together there. I was happy for him that he was able to win in Miami. It was an extremely windy day at Seminole and people were literally putting balls into lakes and bunkers. The course really played tough but that event is just a cool experience.
I spent the following day with my instructors, Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer, but I also was able to help Gary Woodland with his putting. That's always fun for me because I think Gary is a real star in the making.
I went out to Southern California on Monday afternoon of tournament week and did a corporate outing for Fidelity Investments on Tuesday afternoon in Orange County. After the outing, I drove down to the Titleist Performance Institute near San Diego, one of my favorite things to do during the year. I love to go there and check in on my equipment, see the new launch monitors, and get all the feedback on my swing. I'm not a guy that tinkers with things but I'm still looking for that shaft that will give me 40 extra yards with the driver but I know I'll never find it. I was able to tweak some wedges while I was there and I also got to see some of the new products that Titleist will be coming out with soon. If you are a golfer, the Titleist Performance Institute is the greatest place in the world to practice.
I was really excited to play in both the Toshiba Classic and the Mississippi Gulf Resort Classic this month. Earlier this year, all of the Champions Tour players had been telling me what great tournaments these two were. My first trip to Newport was an adventure. Prior to the Wednesday pro-am, I actually went to the wrong golf course first, stopping in at Newport Beach Golf Course. My first clue that I was in the wrong place was I didn't see any tournament vehicles and there were no ropes and stakes on the course. After I eventually figured out where Newport Beach Country Club was, I played in the pro-am with Mark Simons, the CEO of Toshiba America Information Systems, and we had a great time. For me, the pro-ams are not only fun, but they are also important because this is the first time I'm seeing these courses. I'm trying to learn the course and develop a game plan, while also giving back my time to the amateurs and making sure they have a memorable experience. One thing I like to do with my amateurs is let them hear how I'm preparing for an event by discussing course strategy and what clubs I may or may not use during the competitive rounds. Most of them find it interesting that I share this information.
Once the tournament started, it got cold, windy and rainy in a hurry. You couldn't even hold up your umbrella. It was fun to play at Newport Beach but it was a challenging weekend to say the least. Newport Beach Country Club, a little tiny golf course that had seemed to be so scoreable in the pro-am rounds all of a sudden became tough and I really didn't do anything very well. After the tournament, I drove up to Los Angeles and spent Sunday night with my friend Tom Warner, one of the co-owners of the Boston Red Sox, who lives near Riviera Country Club.
We got in a good visit and I then flew out of Los Angeles International to New Orleans on Monday. However, with weather issues my flight was delayed and I didn't get to Biloxi until 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning. After minimal sleep, I went out and played my first actual practice round on the Champions Tour with Jeff Sluman. Fallen Oak is one of the better golf courses I've ever played with very penal fairway bunkers and as much length as you want off the tees. Once again, rain was the culprit at a Champions Tour event and we had almost nine inches of rain hit that canceled the Wednesday afternoon pro-am and all of the Thursday pro-am. I ended up going to see a movie, "21 Jump Street", with Sluman and Jay Haas, two of my closest friends on TOUR. I really didn't think there was any possible way we were going to play the golf tournament.
On Friday morning, I went out to the golf course still really doubting we were going to be able to play. On the drive out to Fallen Oak, I saw two-story houses along the side of the road that had water almost up to their second floor. How they got the golf course ready and playable is beyond belief and the entire staff at Fallen Oak really deserves quite a bit of credit. We played preferred lies the first day but almost didn't need to on Saturday. It was truly amazing how well the course at Fallen Oak drains with the sand-based fairways. Even though I didn't really play very good in Mississippi either, I enjoyed the tournament and can sympathize with what those people went through with Hurricane Katrina.
I'm anxious to go to Augusta this week to receive the Jim Murray Award from the Golf Writers Association of America on Wednesday night. It's quite an honor for me for two reasons. First, Jim Murray, one of America's greatest sportswriters, has his name attached to this award and second, it's flattering that the golf writers would actually think to pick me to receive this award. I've always loved getting my name in the paper and I've had a good relationship with most of the media wherever I've lived over the years. I know the importance of this award to the people who cover our sport and it will be another special evening. Billy Andrade and I received the Charles Bartlett Award at that same dinner in 1999 so I'm somewhat prepared for how things will go there.
My wife, Dory, and I will stay an extra day and attend the first round of the Masters on Thursday as spectators. My daughter, Melanie, works for the marketing and events division at Golf Digest and she will be there as well with one of her clients so that will be really cool.
March 6, 2012
Since I joined the PGA TOUR, I've started every year with great anticipation and this year was no different. After spending several months in the off-season thinking about getting ready to play, I was very excited to start my year off at Hualalai. Winning the Insperity Championship in Houston last fall was a huge boost for me. I hadn't won in awhile and getting a victory under my belt this early in my Champions Tour career was very special. It also qualified me to go to Hawaii in January which was almost like an extra Christmas present.
I live in Rhode Island and normally the weather is not conducive to practicing in the off-season. However this November, we had record high temperatures so I got to play quite a bit of golf. I did go down to Florida for a week in December and spent some time with my instructors, Mike Bennett and Andy Plummer, the Stack-and-Tilt teachers. After a tune-up session, I was ready to go in January. I've always thought that living in the Northeast and taking time off, got me hungrier to play. I spend my down time at the end of the year getting in good shape and working out quite a bit.
I actually started my Hawaii trip off by going to Pebble Beach with some friends for a four-day event at some of the great courses on the Monterey Peninsula. We had great weather with real competition and it got my game ready for the season ahead. After four days of golf, I drove up to San Francisco and met my wife and two of my daughters. San Francisco is such a neat place and we played tourist for a few days in the city. From there, we then went a few days early to the Big Island and we stayed at a good friend's house at Kukio which is right next to Hualalai. He and I got in several rounds of golf on his course and I could not have had better preparation to begin my season. Even though I eventually finished in the middle of the pack at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, it was still a nice jump start to be able to play in this limited-field event at such a spectacular place.
After Hualalai, I had a few weeks off and went down to Orlando for the PGA Merchandise Show. It's always interesting, exciting and also busy for me there. I do some stuff for Titleist, Fairway & Greene and also Zero Restriction since I'm an investor in that company. After some additional practice in Florida, I really enjoyed playing in the Allianz Championship and the ACE Group Classic for the first time. I was really impressed with the organization, the competition and the quality of the events. Both events are very well-run, are played on good golf courses, and we had great crowds. They remind me of PGA TOUR events.
People ask me what's the biggest difference between the PGA TOUR and the Champions Tour? I tell them that the competition is still very good on the Champions Tour. You have to play extremely well to win and I'm blown away with how low the scores are. The courses may not be as long or set up quite as difficult but I think regardless of which Tour, the winning score would probably be the same.
It's amazing how good these guys are when they free it up. We witnessed that with Kenny Perry at the ACE Group Classic. He had 20 birdies in the first 36 holes! Also Corey Pavin and Peter Senior showed us some exciting golf at the Allianz Championship the week before.
I'm still learning where to stay and where to eat in these new cities. I've called on my closest friends Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas, Peter Jacobsen and Nick Price for their advice and recommendations on what I needed to do for hotels and restaurants and they have steered me in the right direction.
I'm no longer a rookie but just about every course I'm playing this year is new and that requires some adjustment. I'm learning the courses during the pro-am rounds. It's also different playing in three-round events with 81 players and no cut. There's a different mindset out here. Every round is important and there's a no-lose mentality when you don't have to worry about missing a cut. Guys shoot for flags right from the start and there's more of an aggressive mental attitude. On the PGA TOUR, there's more of a conservative approach early in the tournament because of a cut.
If the first few tournaments are any indication, there will be more excitement at the Toshiba Classic and I'm already looking forward to my trip to Newport Beach on March 12. It'll be another new place for me and will give me a chance to meet new friends.