Monday, July 18, 2011

The Irish Dominate Golf's Major Championships

Here are the winners of golf's major championships over the past 5 years:

The Masters
2011 Charl Schartzel
2010 Phil Mickelson
2009 Angel Cabrera
2008 Trevor Immelman
2007 Zach Johnson

U.S. Open
2011 Rory McIlroy
2010 Graeme McDowell
2009 Lucas Glover
2008 Tiger Woods
2007 Angel Cabrera

British Open
2011 Darren Clarke
2010 Louis Oosthuizen
2009 Stewart Cink
2008 Pádraig Harrington
2007 Pádraig Harrington

2011 Aug 11-14
2010 Martin Kaymer
2009 Y.E. Yang
2008 Pádraig Harrington
2007 Tiger Woods

Of these 19 majors, 6 were won by Irishmen. Paddy Harrington jump-started the Irish charge with 3 major championships including back-to-back British Open victories. For Irishmen the world over, it was particularly gratifying to see the Republic of Ireland's Tricolour flying on the 18th green of the British Open!

Golf is a game of confidence and Paddy's major championships gave his fellow countrymen the confidence and belief that they too could win. Graeme McDowell followed on Paddy's heels with his victory at the 2010 U.S. Open. Rory snapped right back from his Master's meltdown and won the 2011 U.S. Open. And the sentimental winner at this year's British Open was journeyman Darren Clarke.

Ireland is an island of 6.2 million people. The world population is 6.7 billion. So how does a country with 0.0009% of the world's population win 32% of the last 5 years' major championships?

From a golfing perspective, Irish golfers have an advantage being raised on links golf where the wind, the rain, and the undulating ground require golfers to be good ball strikers, control their ball flight, and learn how to mentally deal with the forces of mother nature. But the Scots and Brits also play links why are the Irish dominating?

I think it has to do with the character of the Irish people. They are a hearty stock who have lived in a violent country of political, economic, and religious troubles for centuries. They are a stubborn lot instilled with a great work ethic. They are a creative and crafty bunch. Lastly, after a cold wet 18 holes, Irish golfers retire to the clubhouse and warm their bones with the greatest of all Irish inventions: Guinness.

I remember playing the course at Westport, Ireland during a particularly stormy day. On the 5th hole, it started to hail. My playing partners (both Irish) didn't blink an eye. When we got to the green, the putting was like playing bumper pool with half-inch sized hail stones. Neither of my Irish players even commented on the conditions. We simply kept playing on. At Waterford, I paid my green fees despite an imminent storm which I planned to play through. On the first hole, the clouds opened and it was a torrential downpour. My ball was washed off the green floating in an inch of water. I had no choice but to bag the round. I went into the clubhouse and asked for a refund since I had not even completed one hole. The man didn't want to return my money..."we don't do that here he said - you play on". Well it was impossible, and he finally admitted as much and offered what we call here a "rain check". I explained I was leaving the country in a few days and would probably not be back anytime soon. We settled on a half refund. Despite McIlroy's recent whine about the weather after the British Open, most Irish golfer's simply accept mother nature's significant role in the game of golf.

But I did have two glorious days at Ballybunion - golfing the links under blue skies on the west coast of Ireland. The wind off the ocean was constant. Depending on the hole, the wind could be in you face, at your back, or from your left or right. I shot an 84 on the old course, with a 10 year old Irish caddy helping me every step of the way. I consider that round my greatest golfing achievement.

As most things Irish, underneath the golfing celebrations are political implications. Paddy is a Catholic who comes from the so-called "Republic of Ireland." He has no problem embracing the tri-colour Irish flag that symbolizes Irish freedom from English oppression. Darren Clarke, I have read, is also a Catholic that sympathizes with the cause of Irish freedom. Clarke was tending bar once when a call came in saying the pub would blow up in 5 minutes. Clarke believed the caller, emptied the bar, and sure enough, a bomb exploded in the pub. Graeme McDowell is a Protestant Ulsterman.

Rory McIlroy is a much more complicated case. Rory is a Catholic, but has said on at least one occasion he considers himself British. That's a hard one to fathom, but who knows what makes people in the so-called "Northern Ireland" do what they do and say what they say just to survive. In the 2009 World Cup of Golf, he represented Ireland. When the sport returns to the Olympic Games in 2016, after more than a century of absence, he has said he “probably” will play for Britain. Asked in an interview with the PGA Tour Web site last year whether he considered himself more British or Irish, McIlroy answered, “Pass.”

Last month, the very day after McIlroy’s United States Open victory, sectarian violence broke out in the Short Strand neighborhood of East Belfast, five miles from Rory's childhood home. Bricks and Molotov cocktails flew for two days. Three people sustained gunshot injuries. Police estimated that 400 to 500 people were involved in the disorder.

A pro-British paramilitary group, the Ulster Volunteer Force, murdered the McIlroy's great-uncle in 1972. According to previously published reports, the great-uncle, Joseph McIlroy, moved into a Protestant area of East Belfast when the Troubles were at their height. Presumably, he had faith in the essential reasonableness of his neighbors. It was misplaced. He was shot dead in his kitchen. No one was convicted.

Did anyone notice that as McIlroy walked off the 18th green at Congressional Country Club last month, someone tossed a green, white and orange tricolor in his direction? It was not clear exactly what happened to the flag, but it quickly disappeared. Did Rory spurn the flag or did it merely fall by the wayside? Not surprisingly, a Facebook page showed up on this subject. Note the very contentious comments:

Rory Turning Down the Tricolour?

One has to feel for a young kid stuck in such an uncomfortable political and religious spot when I'm sure all he wants to do is appeal to both sides and simply play golf. For a more detailed story on this issue, see this excellent article in the NY Times:

McIlroy Transcends Boundaries

The British Open was actually played in Ireland once. It never should have been! The Irish have their own tournament, and the Irish Open will be played next week in Killarney.

Ireland is one island and it is one country. Anyone born on the island is Irish. Golfers from this small country are currently dominating golf's major championships. So let us forget the "troubles", forget the ridiculous marching season, and raise a pint of Guinness to the four major champions from the country of Ireland.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Trapper's Lake 2011

The Fitzman at Trappers Lake

As expected, Colorado was quite different from the most recent summers due to this winter's abundant snow pack. Some areas were 200%+ above normal. As such, the lakes and reservoirs were full and the rivers were raging. It rained every day of my trip.
Driving through Glenwood Canyon and seeing the water covering the bike-path along I-70 by 2-3 feet, I prepared myself for a less than optimal dry-fly season. I was early and I knew it - but the timing could not be avoided due to family issues. So I headed straight up to Trapper's Lake hoping a few days there to let the rivers come down was a good strategy.

But first, I stopped off at the Meadow Lake campground where I spend a day or two to acclimate to altitude and get my fly-fishing gear out for a walk on easy water. I was told my campsite was under 2 feet of snow the day before I got there. The CG wasn't even open so I camped for 2 nights for free. Good action!

Free Camping!

The fishing at Meadow Lake was sub-par. The bigger fish were still down deep and although the area around the creek inlet was full of fish, they were smallish, dumb, and soon bored me. So, onto one of my favorite spots: Trapper's Lake. On arrival, a friendly guy waved so I hung out at his campsite. A cop from Grand Junction and his wife - a school teacher. They were all excited to go on their first over-night (2 nites) backpacking trip. As they were packing, I heard his wife say "what other food are we taking" whereby the cop says, "don't worry honey - we'll just eat fish. I always catch fish with my fly-rod". "You sure?" "Sure I'm sure!" and he grins at me. I agreed, I mean who can't catch trout in just about any backwoods Flat Top's Wilderness lake?

Trapper's Lake fishing was pretty good to me again this year. My first outing I caught 10 or 12, a mix of cutthroats, rainbow, and brook trout. This was in stormy weather while the wind blew and the rain came down in sheets. These trout were taken primarily by stripping black (and olive) woolly buggers as well as the "Fitz special" with a zebra midge dropper. A friend from Craig was doing very well on black leech patterns and I saw several leeches swimming around near the shoreline.

A Beautiful Trapper's Lake Native Colorado Cutthroat

The "Fitz special" is the name given to a fly I have been tying for some years now. Every time I show it to folks, they say "what the hell IS that?" (or something close to that effect). So, instead of saying "oh, I dunno, I just tie it up and it works", I now say "it's a Fitz special!". This fly is very simple to tie - a gold beadhead, orange yarn or thread body, red wire wrap (like a zebra midge). A couple small pieces of flash are optional. Depending on water depth and current, I use this fly in sizes from #20 to as big as a #14. I started using this fly instead of split-shot, which I have learned over the years will lose you flies: repeated casts with split-shot on the tippet will eventually weaken the tippet right at the shot, and eventually you'll lose the fly (and usually a fish along with it) if it is not retied in time. So, I started using the "Fitz special" as a means to get my flies down quickly, and drop the main course off the Fitz special hook. Low-n-behold, on many occasions I started catching as many (or more) fish on the Fitz special as on the main offering. It has become a standard weapon in my arsenal.

Mysis and Fitz Specials - Click to Enlarge & Zoom

Every year I make it a point to do something new when I go to Colorado. A new hike, or fish a new spot, or visit a new campground. My plan this year was to hike around Trapper's Lake, which I had never done before. However, my friend from Craig advised against it. All the trees which burned in the "Big Fish" fire of 2002 now have roots which are well rotted. When the wind blows (as it was the entire time I was there), this becomes a pretty dangerous situation. Instead, I decided to hike up to Coffin Lake and then visit Little Trappers Lake. Coffin Lake has a reputation of holding very large cutthroat up to 30". So, I grabbed my backpack, loaded it with my gear and some lunch and headed out. The lake is aptly named - it is in the shape of a Coffin and very deep. As I headed around the Lake, it became clear the side in the sun, which was relatively shallow, was pretty bare except for the occasional 14-16" cruisers that sees you way before you see them. The steep banked side of the lake was a different story. There were spawning cuts near every little trickle of water from the rains. I rigged up and was soon catching trout very easily, although fishing was quite technical due to the steep bank, all the downed trees, and all the logs in the water. I'd catch a cuttie, and then 4 or 5 others would immediately swim toward the fighting fish and attempt to mate with it. Funnier-n-shit. After 8 or 10, I felt guilty catching spawners. I waited to fish the deeper holes looking for one of the big ones. I worked all the way around the lake with no luck until the last deep whole back where I started. I thought I was hung on a log until it started moving. I caught a slight glimpse of the monster, although the water was 8' deep & dark. It was a *big* fish. I had no chance with all the logs & such and 4lb tippet. He robbed me blind but I will surely visit this lake again.

A Coffin Lake Spawner

Next I headed up to Little Trappers and decided to put on my waders since the shore was shallow and no action. I must have stabbed myself while fishing Coffin because I had a relatively deep cut on my left leg. These burned and fallen trees are accidents waiting to happen. Be careful!! Anyhow, I worked my way around the entire lake, saw no fish, saw no rises, and didn't even see any fish spawning where the two creeks empty into the lake. The only lake I had seen this dead was a few years back when I hiked into Rock Lake in the San Juans. While hiking out, I ran into a woman on the trail who told me, after I commented the lake look "dead", "oh yeah, they killed it". I said what do you mean? She explained that the Colorado DOW had begun a new program of trying to restore lakes to its native fish only. According to her (i later verified with a DOW employee) they chemically treated Rock Lake to kill off all the fish (the brook trout were the problem) and then stocked the lake with only its true native fish - in this case the Rio Grande cutthroat. Well, I had convinced myself that Little Trapper's Lake was dead. But then again, the season was 2-3 weeks behind the last few years...water colder...higher...naw man, that lake is DEAD.

So, I hiked back to the truck and got to camp in time to eat and head down to Scot's bay where I caught some more cuts.

Fell victim to my Zebra Midge

That evening, while cooking dinner, a guy dropped by my campsite to bs. He said he planned to hike up to Little Trapper's with his belly boat. I said "Ohh man, don't do it! You'd be better off fishing Scot's bay on the main lake!" Little Trappers is dead I told him and explained why I thought so. "Aw, you're's not dead." Okey-dokey buddy, but I think you're wasting your time.

Meanwhile the couple from Craig had come back. How was your trip I asked? Great he said, but all his wife said is "are those steaks done yet?" (they smelled divine). Anyhow, he looks at me with a sheepish grin and about that time his wife said she is tired of eating freeze dried meals. "Didn't you catch any fish?" He looked a me with this kind of startled look and said, "Man, the lake was still frozen over!" I guess he tried to knock a hole in the ice to sink a hook but the slush filled in quickly. What lake did you hike into I asked? "Surprise Lake". How fitting! Bar har har - surprise, surprise, surprise!

He said they saw snow banks up there with 10-15 feet thick and doubted they would melt prior to new snow this fall.

Meanwhile Mr. Belly Boat drops by and said "Little Trapper's isn't dead!" while shooting me a sideway's evil eye. Honestly surprised I said, "Really? You did well?" "Yup" he says, " I caught several 15 inch cuts on dry flies" still looking at me as though I must have purposefully lied to him. I said "Hey man, that's awesome, I guess I was wrong. I was just trying to save you a grunt of a hike with your belly boat." I'm not sure he believed me, but I was glad to hear Little Trapper's is alive and well.