As with many of the things in life that I would most want to be really good at, I suck at golf. Really, I just think you should know that. I started golfing years and years ago, but reached my personal plateau of ability on the 2nd hole that I played. Seriously, I can make a ball go anywhere but straight, up to and including a 90 degree turn in either direction. I’m so bad, I could golf around corners. I kept trying, though, because there’s just something about being out there on a nicely groomed golf course enjoying the weather and a few cold beers, but not necessarily in that order. I tried lessons once, but quit after the fourth lesson when I teed up for a drive, gave it a mighty whack, only to have the ball shoot about 20 feet straight up. Without even leaving my stance, I reached out and caught it. To me eternal shame, the entire even was captured on video tape. I even joined a league thinking that maybe more regular practice would help. I won the trophy for Worst Golfer running away; there wasn’t anyone even close to me.
So why would I be attracted to something like Tiger Woods Golf ’09 for the Wii? Well, I always wondered what it would be like to play golf like it’s meant to be played, taking into account esoteric variables like the wind, the lie of the ball, the slope of the fairway and the green, the risk vs. benefit of trying to make the green in two on a par 5, and all of the other little things that have to be considered before every shot. I always wondered what it would be like to worry about over-shooting the hole, rather than worrying about whether I’d top the ball and not even make it to the ladies tee. It seemed that there had to be something inherently satisfying in the playing of the game well or people wouldn’t spend so much time and money to do it. It always seemed counterintuitive to me that the more it cost to play at any given course, the harder it was. It seemed to me that I’d pay a couple of hundred bucks to play where there weren’t any trees, water, and mega-large sand traps, but every expensive course that I’ve seen has tons of those. With Tiger Woods for the Wii, I hoped that I would get to experience golf the way it is meant to be, the way that it was for me.
Initially, I was actually a little disappointed. Believe it or not, it was too easy! I selected Mr. Woods as my Wii representative and hit the first tee. Birdie. Second hole: Eagle. Third hole: Birdie. Why, this was no challenge at all! I changed to a different golfer. As Vijay Singh, I made a hole-in-one on my 17th hole. At that point, I made two major changes to the way I was doing things: I switched to the Advance swing, and I created my own player. That made all of the difference in the world. From then on, the game became exactly what I was looking for. I could hit a drive pretty straight almost every time, although I could draw or fade when I wanted to, and sometimes even when I didn’t want to. I had to be very selective in my choice of club for any shot, and I had to be aware of the lie of the ball and the ambient winds.
I soon started planning a strategy for each shot. When it looked like I might over drive the fairway, I switched to a shorter club. When between clubs, I either took the longer club and tried to hit it lighter, or took the shorter club and convinced my self that I would be better off short of the hole than long into the water. I looked at the wind conditions and the slope of the green/fairway, trying to play the shot such that it would roll where I wanted it to upon landing. I even start aiming a little right or left to offset the aim when the ball was above or below my feet. I practiced with spinning the ball to try to correct its direction or to either stop it or roll it further if it looked like my distance was going to be wrong. In essence, I began to play golf the way it should be played, and I loved every minute of it. Except…
Well, putting. I was, and remain, horrible at putting. I have four-putted from eight feet from the hole. You will hear a lot about the putting in Woods ’09 – it seems to be universally hated. The thing about it is that there is not just one putter. In effect, your bag contains a 5 ft. putter, a 10 ft. putter, a 20 ft. putter, etc. You can take a full golf swing with the 5 ft. putter, and while you’d expect a swing like that to produce a couple of hundred feet of roll, it will not. On a level green, it will go right around, well, 5 ft. Against an uphill slope, it might go 2 ft. It’s counterintuitive to the extreme and a lot of people hate it, but I suspect it was developed this way to compensate for the relative infidelity of the Wii remotes. Being able to use the full range of the controller in disparate power ranges offers more precise control, but at the cost of realism. You may love it, or you may hate it, but at the end of the day you simply have to get used to it. I’ve more or less gotten used to it, but it is still the case that I can go from a position in the top 5 of a tournament to the very basement in the span to two holes.
This brings to mind one of my beefs with what is really an all-inclusive golf experience, though. Every time I’ve gone to a PGA tour event, I’ve seen the same thing as the golfers arrive to play: they go to the practice green. For some indiscernible reason, neither of these is provided in the game. Your first taste of a green will be in competition or, in other words, way too late to be trying to get a feel for the conditions. What you would prefer to do would be to spend some time on the practice green familiarizing yourself with the speed of the greens, the way the slope equates into how much break to play for, and just the general feel of putting at the course you’re playing at. With the large number of golf courses provided, it seems as if it would have been just a small addition to add a practice green for each.
After finishing in last place in every tournament that I had entered, I realized that I needed a less challenging way to practice. I found that if I could find a lucrative deal to fill my bank account it would allow me to purchase nicer equipment. I found the best approach to be playing Skins against some of the lower tier golfers (I do pretty well against the Sumo wrestler) with the Specials cranked up to $1,000. After just a few rounds playing that way, I had $85,000 in the bank and quite a bit of good, competitive experience. The only downside of having the Specials pay so well is that it’s a bit anticlimactic to win a $75 Skin after making $5,000 in Specials. Trust me, though: you get used to it.
I recently found a better (albeit not as lucrative) way to get a well-rounded series of practice sessions, though. I’ve been working my way through the Tiger Challenge, which is a series of events such as a two-hole match play, a four-hole Skins game, or some kind of long-putting thing that, while I won, I never fully understood. Each of the events is wrapped up inside of 10 or 15 minutes, making them much more time efficient for short practice sessions.
Having done all of that, I felt that it was time to try another PGA event. I entered a tournament being played at Firestone in Akron, OH. Firestone is one of my favorite courses because it is mostly flat and straight. The greens aren’t horribly fast, and with very little slope to them I can usually get by with one or two putts. The practice had really paid off: I finished sixteenth.
For which I was paid $90.
This professional golfing thing isn’t really all it’s cracked up to be, at least in a pecuniary sense.
There are a couple of other areas in the game that I haven’t really explored. One, online multiplayer, I will try once a few of my friends buy the game. The other, the Party Mode, will probably lie fallow. I prefer the more realistic modes and don’t have any interest in target shooting or whatever. The Party Mode is there, so feel free to explore it if you’d like, but I contend that this game is worth having just for the straight golfing alone. The controls are intuitive and make excellent use of the Wii remote, but there is the caveat about the way the putting is structured. That will be a deal breaker for some folks, but I personally have gotten used to it and really don’t notice it much anymore. It’s just one more factor in planning a putt, and in reality, putting is not supposed to be easy anyway.
Some people will hate the putting, but the rest of the game more than makes up for the questionable way the developers implemented the putting stroke.