LARRY WALKER: DIAMANTE’S HUMBLE HALL-OF-FAMER

BY TRAVELIN’ JOE PASSOV

This past Sunday, July 26, was scheduled to be induction day at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. for the class of 2020. The Coronavirus chaos squashed those plans. Instead, Derek Jeter, Marvin Miller, Ted Simmons and Diamante’s own Larry Walker will celebrate the honor on this same weekend in 2021.

“I fully understand and agree with the Board’s decision,” said Walker in late April. “It is most important to do the right thing for everybody involved, and that means not putting any participants in jeopardy, whether Hall of Famers or visitors. I realize how serious this situation has become and how many lives have been lost.”

It also means that Walker is spared the agony of having to make a major, televised speech for another 12 months. Sure, he’s ecstatic about the honor. On the other hand, he’s less comfortable about the spotlight that comes with it. Larry Walker is as humble as they come. His baseball career earned him his deserved place in the Hall of Fame. Still, it’s not easy honoring a legend who never had any interest in ceremony, recognition or self-promotion.  Perhaps that makes it even more special.

A Diamante visitor for two-and-a-half years and a property owner for a little more than a year, native Canadian Larry Walker might be reluctant to toot his own horn, so we’ll do it for him. He played 17 years in the major leagues, from 1989 to 2005, with the Montreal Expos, Colorado Rockies and St. Louis Cardinals. As a Colorado Rockie in 1997, he became the only player in major league history to register both a .700 slugging percentage (SLG) and 30 stolen bases in the same season. That season he won the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award (MVP). From 1997-1999, he became the first player in more than 60 years to hit better than .360 in three consecutive years. He captured three National League batting championships overall. He was elected to Canada’s Sports of Hall of Fame in 2007. Seven Gold Gloves. Five All-Star appearances. Three Silver Sluggers.

Pretty impressive stuff, right? Tell that to the guy who answered the Hall of Fame’s congratulatory call and accompanying video camera crew while dressed in a NASCAR-style, SpongeBob SquarePants shirt. Sports Illustrated called him a “fashion tastemaker,” because the shirt sold out on Amazon and at Walmart within 24 hours.

Self-effacing? When I asked him about his most memorable moment on the field, he didn’t respond with “clinching the National League pennant,” or “hitting a home run in the World Series.” Instead, he recalled a gaffe. In 1994, while playing for the Expos on an ESPN Sunday night telecast in Dodgers Stadium, he caught a fly ball in foul territory from L.A.’s Mike Piazza off a Pedro Martinez pitch. He then handed the ball over to six-year-old fan Sebastian Napier. Unfortunately, that was only the second out in the inning. Larry quickly saw the Dodgers’ Jose Offerman tagging up from first, running at full throttle. Walker sheepishly retrieved the ball from the young fan, and held Offerman to third base.  Larry’s make-good to young Sebastian the next inning earned both a standing ovation.

“I fired a strike to home plate, too,” says Walker. “You know, I had a few great defensive plays and some walk-off home runs. But that play gets talked about more than anything else in my career. Everyone seems to remember it.”

Diamante’s Ken Jowdy chimes in, laughing and commenting, “I remember my happiest moment when you were on the field, Larry. The 2004 World Series.”

That was the year the Red Sox broke an 86-year World Series drought. For Jowdy, a rabid Red Sox fan, it was heaven. “I don’t want to hear about it,” responds Walker, who for his part, batted .357 in that World Series, playing for the St. Louis Cardinals and who hit the only two home runs the Cardinals managed the entire series.

On the afternoon of January 21, 2020, Larry was out doing yard work at his Florida home. “That day was fairly normal for me,” he says. “I had my best friend in from L.A. and one of my brothers came down from Virginia. I brought them in as a ‘just in case’ the phone happened to ring. It was leading up to the witching hour—5 pm to 5:20 is when they said they’d call, if they called, as that was one hour before it would be (announced) on TV.

“I made myself a drink, turned the ringer on and set the phone down, so everybody could see if the call came in. It was a little chilly for a Florida evening and it was getting close to end of the time they said they’d be calling. I made an announcement to the friends and family there, ‘In 90 seconds, we’re going inside.’ Thirty-three seconds later, the phone rang. Everyone around me went crazy. I went numb. The emotions took over. It brought tears to my eyes.”

On the 10th and final year of eligibility, by a margin of six votes, Larry Walker was now a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. For a Vancouver, B.C. kid whose first love and sporting success was hockey, who had zero ambitions or expectations of realizing this pinnacle of success, it was truly sweet. He had deliberately kept expectations low.

“The thought of being a Hall-of-Famer never once crossed my mind while I was playing,” says Walker. “When my playing days were over, my goal was to stay on the ballot for all ten years. For me, that was a success. I never put myself in a position for disappointment.”

This modest superstar fits right in at Diamante, where’s he treated simply as another member out hunting for birdies. Actually, Larry has a hobby that finds him out hunting for golf balls, a ball hawk, if you will.

“As a kid in Canada,” Larry remembers, “I would wade into the water ponds looking for balls. I would fill egg cartons with them and price them not according to the brand, but as to how shiny they were.”

During the pandemic, Larry has picked up right where he left off. He has spent the duration at Diamante. He’s lowered his handicap index from 9.7 to 4.1, partly because he says he says he’s played more golf in the past four months than in the previous 15 years. Still, he’s far more proud of his found golf ball total.

“I’m up to 3,500,” he says. “My record for one day is 381 and I had another day when I found 351. It started one day during the shutdown. Number 11 on the Dunes is in my backyard and some of the staff was cutting back some brush, but they left the golf balls there. I went and picked them up. It was like an Easter Egg hunt.”

Larry played an all-star lineup of courses in Ireland on a buddies trip in 2019, with Old Head, a cliff-top course above the Atlantic Ocean a clear favorite. Nevertheless, he also enjoys both the Dunes and El Cardonal courses at Diamante.

“El Cardonal is far tougher for me,” says Walker. “The Dunes offers more forgiveness for my erratic shots.” The par-4 fourth and the par-5 18th on the Dunes are two of Larry’s top choices for golf holes at Diamante, as he makes par or birdie nearly every time. The hole that eats his lunch? The par-3 16th on El Cardonal. “I know, it’s only 150 yards, but I just don’t seem to club right. There’s wind up there that I never believe or see.”

No matter what he scores, Larry tips his cap to the entire Diamante experience. “Right now, we’re playing the Dunes and it’s quite similar to the courses I enjoyed in Ireland,” he says. “The staff is down-to-earth and polite, there are comfort stations every four holes and the sushi at the Sports Bar is phenomenal—always fresh and good.

“Everyone here has done an amazing job (during the pandemic) of keeping everything running and following the rules. We felt very safe in here since we arrived in March. Another nice thing: Ken lets homeowners look for golf balls.”

Here’s a foolproof technique for escaping plugged lies in bunkers

There may not be a more deflating feeling than walking up to a greenside bunker and seeing your ball plugged. The sand is already a difficult hazard guarding the greens — Brendon Todd leads the PGA Tour this season at a hair above 69% — but when your ball catches a nasty lie, there is little hope of getting up and down.

However, there is hope yet on plugged lies if you know the proper technique. That’s where LPGA Tour legend Laura Davies comes in. In a recent video posted on Twitter, Davies shared some insight on how to approach these dreaded shots.

“They’re obviously difficult shots because you have no real control over it,” Davies says.

She explains that she learned this technique from fellow European golf star Ian Woosnam while the two were playing in Japan.

“I thought he was joking,” Davies says. “But it actually works.”

The technique is simple: you hood (close) the clubface severely at address while also taking an ultra-light grip. On the takeaway, take the club well outside your normal path and then blast down on the ball. If done correctly, the clubface will open on impact and the ball will pop out.

“It actually works,” Davies says. “That’s something that Woosy taught me about 20 years ago and I’ve used it many times in tournament rounds. It’s a bit advanced, but give it a go.”

 

Perfect Your Swing From Home

Here in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico the weather is close to perfect, especially for golfers. The winter is the busy season here for the area’s many golf courses making Los Cabos a true golfing mecca. But what if you don’t live in Cabo and can’t play golf year round? Not all of us are fortunate enough to have a golf course or a FullSwing golf simulator in our back yard like Tiger Woods, so how does the average duffer keep their skills sharp during the winter months or during a lockdown? Here are a few tips to help perfect your golf swing so you will be ready for your next round.

Use Your Space Wisely

If you’re lucky enough to have access to your own outside space during the lockdown, take the opportunity to use this to practice your swing. Bear in mind that you don’t actually have to hit a ball whilst you’re simply practicing, so even if you don’t have a large garden but instead have a small terrace or even a balcony, you’ll still be able to head out with your club and work on getting your swing correct.

Likewise, even if you don’t have access to any personal outside space at all, the lack of actually creating any impact with a golf ball will still allow you to practice your swing indoors. Just make sure that you’re in a spacious room away from anything that you could accidentally hit with your club – this includes other people!

Improvise

In fact, you don’t even need to break out your golf clubs in order to practice your swing. Instead, simply filling an empty plastic soda bottle with some water until you’ve reached the same sort of weight as your club will give you a perfect alternative to using your clubs, and will certainly reduce the risk of any accidental damage or injury if you’re practicing indoors.

This is also a fantastic way to teach your kids how to perform a golf swing if they’re getting bored during the lockdown, and means that you can pass on your skills without them having to use your clubs as they practice.

Record Yourself

Another good way to look at how your golf swing is performing is to grab your cell phone or a video camera and record yourself as you practice. This will allow you to easily highlight any imperfections in your posture or movements, and gives you the opportunity to focus on individual mistakes rather than having to focus on your swing as a whole.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask any family members or friends that you’re self isolating with to take a look at your swing as you carry it out. This can also be hugely beneficial in pinpointing any movements that may need adjusting.

Follow the Sequence

Getting out of practice can lead to old habits creeping back in, so whilst you’re taking the time to carry on working on your golf swing during the lockdown, make sure that you’re still following the sequence of movements that make up the perfect swing. We’ve broken these down below into individual chunks, so you can be certain that you’re not missing out any crucial steps.

Posture

Although it’s the one thing that is most commonly forgotten by novice and pro golfers alike, the posture that you adopt when you first step up to the ball is arguably the most important thing to make sure you’re getting correct.

Incorrect posture will set you up for failure before you’ve even begun to raise your club towards the sky, so getting it right is crucial. Make sure that you’re feet are positioned in a way that allows for the size of the club head, and that your weight is evenly distributed between the balls of both of your feet.

Keep your knees bent comfortably, and make sure your torso is pointed directly at the ball (or where you would imagine the ball to be in this case) as you address it.

The Takeaway

Remember that as you begin to raise your golf club skyward, you don’t actually have to do very much at all. Fight the temptation to grab on as tightly as possible or move upwards in a quick, jerking action, and instead simply practice slowly moving your shoulders away from where your target would be, keeping your lower body as still as possible and holding onto your club with a comfortable grip.

The Backswing

At this point you’ll want to make sure that your balance is correct. Your shoulders will be turning as a result of your takeaway, so now is the time to ensure that your feet are still firmly planted on the ground and that your legs are stable. Your weight should also be evenly distributed across the top of your legs at this point, and your right hip should be raised higher than the left.

The Transition

Getting your transition correct will have a huge impact on how the club head meets the ball, so take some time to make sure that you’re carrying it out correctly. To do this, your focus needs to be on your lower body and on your hips, with your currently raised right hip now needs to start rotating back into place and towards your target.

The Downswing

Getting your downswing perfect will ensure that the ball gets exactly where you want it to go upon impact, which in turn will lead you to being able to finish the course in as few hits as possible.

At this point, your grip on the club needs to be relaxed in order to allow it to swiftly flow through the air and have a greater amount of force on the ball, and your body position will also need to be adjusted.

To simplify this, you just need to make sure that your left hip begins to raise as you bring your hands back down and that the majority of your weight has shifted to your left leg. This will allow you to get a good shot at the ball without any stunted force behind the club.

Conclusion

Self isolation and social distancing have definitely taken their toll on our day to day lives, and not being able to get out into the wide open to play our favorite sport has been a struggle to say the least. But, try to take any frustration that the lockdown may be causing and focus it into something constructive. Working on your golf swing is certainly a good place to start!

As you can see, there are still a variety of ways that you can work on your golf swing even if you’re currently unable to get over to the golf course, and when you’re finally able to meet up with fellow competitors again, you’ll be able to amaze them with your finely tuned skills.

When you come to Los Cabos be sure to check out Diamante’s stunning practice facilities and instructors at the Diamante Golf Academy. Two FullSwing Golf simulators, driving ranges, short game areas and a putting course with complimentary weekly clinics for men and women of all skill levels. Come and taste the Diamantelife.

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Contact Lvargas@diamantelife.com for more information.

 

#golfdiamante #elcardonalgolf #diamantegolfacadamy #diamantelife #diamantedunesgolf #fullswinggolf

 

Spieth Uses Nicklaus’s ‘Winning Formula’ To Win Back To Back Majors

I didn’t have a job at 21, and I didn’t have much focus in life either, which is probably why I filled up a backpack and disappeared for a year. So it comes with plenty of jealousy that at the same age Jordan Spieth has managed to find the secret to success and become a double-major winner.

At the conclusion of the third round Spieth was asked whether he’ll feel the pressure going into the final round of the U.S. Open as joint leader, he responded with a lot of confidence considering the fickleness of the course conditions:

“None, other than I feel like we have a winning formula to close the deal in a major championship.”

Spieth now has four PGA Tournaments wins, two of them majors and you get the impression the big ones don’t even scare him a little now, maybe they never did. Either way they’ve just got a lot easier to win going forward.

Let’s forget comparisons with Tiger Woods. Woods dominated his generation, by the time he won his second major at the 1999 PGA Championship it was already his 11th PGA win.

No one is ever going to be as prolific as Tiger Woods, but one gets the ominous feeling that Spieth’s DNA is aligned in a different direction altogether, a compass heading that Woods himself has been charting over the course of three separate decades.

Spieth is a grinder, he velcros himself to leaderboards and stares his opposition in the face. He doesn’t intimidate, he doesn’t bomb it 340 like Johnson, Day or McIlroy and he isn’t the best iron player either. But he rarely lets things slip, holes putts when he needs to and has a tidier short game than most.

Remind you of anyone?

Jack Nicklaus knew the value of presence, self control and mental toughness. Mentally, there might not be anyone in the game tougher than Spieth and he does it day in, day out every Thursday to Sunday.

In April he closed out the Masters byleading after every day and his reaction while watching Dustin Johnson coming down the last offered at least a glimpse into the steely control he holds on his own game and the confidence he possesses.

Asked how it would have felt had he not won, after double-bogeying the 17th?

“It would have stung a lot, because it was mine. I controlled my destiny, it would have been tough to swallow”

It confirmed the confidence twoven into his game. He expects to win every time he is in contention, he doesn’t want to rely on others’ mistakes, although in the majors this is like a bonus dice roll for him. When in charge of a tournament, he fully expects to finish it.

And when you are in control of your game as often as he is, then it’s up to others to try and stay in control of theirs, and in majors so often they cannot. Exactly the same philosophy that Nicklaus held throughout his entire career. He too found the majors easier to win and he knew only too well that if he took care of his own game, the pressure would take care of others.

Loui Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy couldn’t grind it out for four consecutive days. The pressure took care of Johnson and Branden Grace too. Spieth though, stayed in control for all four days, despite a rare error on 17, he sandwiched it with birdies either side. Importantly, his mistake came with an opportunity to repair it, unlike Johnson whose mistake at the last meant instant knockout.

“I didn’t have that [the winning formula] at Augusta, but this week with perhaps not my best ball striking, combined with Michael’s knowledge of this place, to keep me in it and then to use that winning formula mentally, to stay in the game, when I was out of it for some of the day today, is awesome, it gives a lot of confidence going forward.”

It’s just difficult to get perspective on a kid that has just won the first two majors of the year. The youngest since Gene Sarazan to win two and you have to reach all the way back to 1923 to find a younger US Open Champion, and when you do, you see it’s Bobby Jones!

OK, let’s not get into comparison, because he isn’t Nicklaus either. At least not yet.

The U.S. Open at Chambers Bay looks mighty familiar to those that have bothered to study it!

The immediate reaction on seeing Chambers Bay is that the winner will be the player who can create the most inventive shots, have the visualisation to hit it somewhere other than the target and let the slopes do the rest. This course is a big side-step from the hit-it-straight-or-bleed-out philosophy we have become used to at the U.S. Open.

Rory McIlroy said it rewards the big and brave off the tee, Tiger Woods was keen to stress the variety of options facing the player on every shot. The tall fescue grass is a first, as is the location; no U.S. Open has ever been played on the Pacific Northwest Coast. Weather will be a factor here, especially the wind.

Then there are the hollows, troughs, mounds, hills, slopes, backboards, swales and the odd unfair kick too. But what is a U.S. Open without a touch of unfairness? Pinehurst last year relied on luck when entering its waste/scrub hazards. This time round it will be elemental, Earth, Wind and…Fescue!

“This is a one-of-a-kind site for us at a U.S. Open, there is going to be some players that just love this ground game and love the imagination and embrace it. And then there are other players who just want predictability. They want something right in front of them.”
Mike Davis, USGA Executive Director.

This won’t be the first time a big event has been played here though. In 2010 the U.S. Amateur Championship was held here. It was won by Peter Uihlein who has, unsurprisingly gone on to forge a successful start to his professional career on the European Tour – clearly he knows a thing or too about windy, bouncy conditions!

The wind, the slope and the potential firmness of the bounce will favour a player who is used to the links courses of Great Britain and Ireland; there will be no hitting it high and stopping it on a dime (or should we say a sixpence?).

Uihlein’s approach to winning was key, involving picking a spot, using the contours and keeping the ball as low as possible. Which might give us an idea on who might have a good chance this year.

Last year’s Open Championship winner was McIlroy and he will still be many people’s favorite, but after an early exit on the links of Royal County Down in his self-hosted Irish Open, can he really tame Chambers Bay in the same way he did to Congressional? We might be better served to take a good look at the merits of wind specialists Sergio Garcia, who has a bagful of good finishes at the Open Championship or Rickie Fowler who won the Players. Both players pushed McIlory at Royal Liverpool last year, and both have the vision and the talent to do well again this week.

While the informed might opt for Masters champ Jordan Spieth, those with a feeling for the vagaries of links golf might think he could struggle this week. Then there is defending U.S. Open champion Martin Kaymer, who loves these newly-designed links challenges. His two major victories have come on windy, sandy-soiled tests at Pinehurst and Whistling Straights, if he’s in the mood this week he could dominate again.

Or could it finally be Phil Mickelson’s year?

What is clear, is that Chambers Bay will be a challenge to everyone teeing it up. It’ll be something they won’t have had much experience of, which was the point of Mike Davis when he suggested that players would be wise to get in early and do their homework, this type of course won’t come round often in the U.S. Open.

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