February 10, 2004 - Tiger is a Poa Pussycat

By: Jeff Shelley

Author's Note: I wrote this piece three years ago after Tiger Woods opted out of the old "Clambake" at Pebble Beach, citing the course's soft and moist poa greens. He hasn't played there since, so I think it has some pertinence today.

I didn't want to diss felines in the title of this article. But after reading Tiger Woods' reasons for not playing in the recent AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, I had no choice but to question his instincts.

The February 6 issue of Golfweek's SuperNEWS had an item that cited the influence Tiger had in golf course design and conditioning. More specifically, Woods said his reason for not playing in last week's AT&T was his dislike for the poa annua greens at Pebble Beach Golf Links. In responding to bypassing that popular, tradition-rich tournament, Eldrick said his return "depends on the greens there."

The implication was that unless the owners - who include Arnold Palmer, Clint Eastwood, and other important people - convert the greens to more even-rolling bentgrass, the world's No. 1 ranked player won't come back.

I don't know about you, but this particular bout of Tiger Talk seems to disparage one of America's great golf courses. Tiger's whining about a turf found on thousands of golf courses around our great nation smacks of hypocrisy. By refusing to play Pebble Beach because of its poa annua greens, Tiger implies that, no matter how hard Pebble Beach's superintendents and thousands of other superintentents work, everyone is pissing into the wind by trying to make this grass golf-able. And, sorry folks, less profitable for Tiger.

Maybe this is really just Tiger's way of avoiding an event where he must interact with amateur golfers and galleries. Some pros readily confess they skip the "Crosby Clambake" as well as the Hope earlier in the season because they can't handle the distractions and slow play of their high-handicap partners.

But, Jeez. It's not like Tiger's never done well at these particular Pacific links.

In 2000 he had no problems with Pebble's poa. Trailing Matt Gogel by seven strokes with seven holes to go, Woods played the last four holes in four under par to win the AT&T by two strokes. Later that year in the U.S. Open, Tiger went 65-69-71-67, 272, winning $800,000 and one of his eight majors by a record-setting 15 strokes over Ernie Els.

Maybe he should worry about Vijay Singh, who could be a helluva lot more concern than poa

Over the past 100 years, poa annua - a k a annual bluegrass, a weed to horticulturists - has evolved perennial strains that dominate thousands of putting greens in the Northeast, the Pacific Northwest, along the U.S./Canadian border, and in Eastern Canada. Yet, despite its widespread occurrence (a wonderful word since this grass happens so naturally and can work for golf), there are no commercially available sources of greens-type poa annua for use in constructing, renovating, or maintaining golf putting surfaces.

In its piece about Tiger's poa nausea, SuperNEWS reported the efforts of Penn State professor David Huff, who's researching varieties of greens-grade poa for "relics" such as Pebble Beach. Huff has developed cultivars that are an improvement over the conventional stuff, but legal challenges have stalled its commercial production. Huff and other researchers have identified over 1,600 strains. They're trying to find a "super-poa" that withstands winter freezes and mid-summer heat, one resistant to diseases and insects. The study is evaluating vegetative propagation, traditional seed, and synthetic (artificial) seed development.

The performance of these strains is currently being assessed on an experimental green at Penn State. (Isn't there something reassuring about eggheads trying to improve our putting?)

I'm not sure if this exhaustive research is responsive to Tiger's odium for Pebble's putting surfaces. But painstaking efforts are certainly being made to reverse the image of this declasse grass.

Heavy nitrogen content

As a golfer, and one who should know his compatriots can smell BS the next fairway over, Tiger should appreciate the efforts of Huff and his cohorts. And understand his import in our world.

I'm surprised he isn't more thankful of the people trying to improve the primary surface upon which HE learned to play the game.

I'd have a lot more respect for Tiger right now if he came out and said he didn't want to deal with the amateurs, the slow rounds, the close proximity of the fans AND the poa at this wintertime tournament.

Actually, I wouldn't have blamed Tiger if he'd slammed this year's AT&T. Instead of featuring the Monterey Peninsula, the links in all its natural glory, and the fun times people can have on a great golf course, the tournament has devolved into a blatant promotional play for CBS. Way too often the camera pointed at the network's unfunny Ray Romano, Kevin James and George Lopez. Golf in Carmel this year seemed too scripted, like a George W. Bush call to arms.

Bill Murray wasn't there, making it two stars not at the 2004 AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Murray had an excuse, in Italy shooting a movie.

Guess Tiger took another road.

The Californian should wise up and make it a point to be at the AT&T every year. He has a responsibility to golf and his fans to be available for these kinds of things, particularly this one in his own back yard.

This illustrious pro-am should be mandatory for Tiger, who shouldn't shun a golf course that, along with Augusta National, forged his legend.

He definitely shouldn't carp about the greens that so many of us weekend hackers play and thousands of superintendents try to perfect.

I'm hoping Tiger's blaming of Pebble's poa for his notable non-appearance this year does not represent the true color of his stripes.