Tiger and Phil – 40 is the new 20

I was working on this blog post and then the unexpected happen — Jack Nicklaus tweeted exactly what I had been thinking.

Jack Nicklaus Tweet

Jack Nicklaus Tweet after the Valspar Championship

I almost decided not to publish this post but then I thought, “great minds think alike” and my take on this is slightly different from Jack’s tweet.

In the last few years, as a golf fan who loved watching Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods for so many years, it was both fun and sad watching the changing of the guard as Jordan Spieth and other young players won majors and began making their mark on the sport I love.  I do enjoy the young guns. Jordan Spieth is my favorite but it seemed odd to me to think of Phil and Tiger as “old” and to hear so many golf analysts write them off.  After all other professionals won in their forties. In fact, Jack Nicklaus won the 1986 Masters at the age of 46.

So as a fan of Phil Mickelson, I was thrilled to see him play so well in February and early March. As you can see from the chart below, he had a great run and won the World Golf Championship in Mexico.

Phil 2018 Record

Phil’s finishes in the last four PGA Tour events

Everyone knows about the turmoil (on and off the course) that Tiger Woods has faced the last few years. I will admit that although I was amazed by Tiger’s talent, I was never a Tiger fan. I was always a Phil fan. I guess it was partly because Phil seemed more approachable and nice to his fans but mostly I loved “Phil the thrill” because you never knew what golf shot Phil would try when he got into trouble.  That being said, I have now become a golf fan that hopes Tiger does achieve success in his comeback because it appears he is a changed man and everyone deserves a second chance. In his 40’s, Tiger appears grateful to be healthy and able to play golf again.

So my hope for the rest of the 2018 golf season is that 40 is the new 20! I hope Phil and Tiger contend at the majors and win. I would love to see Tiger win The Master and Phil Mickelson win The U.S. Open (the one that Phil has yet to win).

And let the summer of 2018 be a reminder to all of us that “age is just a number” and “golf is a game for life!”

 

PGA Rookies to watch in 2013

I like to follow one or two new players each year and this year there are a lot of rookies with very impressive resumes.  All you need to do is look at the top 25 from the 2012 Web.com Tour money list and pick one.  There are three Web.com players that I find interesting:

1)  Casey Whittenberg – He is really not a “rookie” on the PGA tour because he has been playing tournaments on the PGA tour and Web.com tour (formally, Nationwide tour) for a number of years but he earned his 2013 PGA tour card with his excellent play in 2012.

I first became aware of Wittenberg watching the 2004 Masters when he finish 13th as an amateur (the highest finish of an amateur since 1961.)  After the Masters, everyone thought when he turned pro that he would win quickly; but Whittenberg has had his challenges.  However in 2012 it appears he has found his game and was the “2012 player of the year” on the Web.com tour and is one of five Web.com tour players to have won twice in 2012.

2)  Luke Gutherie – Another two-time winner, Gutherie won back-to-back tournaments on the Web.com Tour.  Gutherie played only 10 Web.com tournaments in 2012 and of the ten, seven were top 10 finishes.  His back-to-back wins occurred in September at the Albertsons Boise Open and the WNB Golf Classic.

3)   Ben Kohles – Not only was Kohles a two-time and back-to-back winner on the Web.com tour; but those back-to-back wins were his first two starts on tour.  The tournaments were the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational and Cox Classic.  It is just so impressive to see someone win in the first two tournaments of their professional career.

There are many other rookies to watch but there is only one other that I will be keeping my eye on and that is Patrick Reed also fondly known as “Mr. Monday.”  He got the nickname, “Mr. Monday,” on tour in 2012 because he entered PGA tournaments the “old school” way by playing in Monday qualifiers.  He played in eight PGA Monday qualifiers and made the field in six tournaments.  Of course, as fate would have it, he won his PGA tour card at Q-school on a Monday.

What really makes me a fan of Patrick Reed is his personal story.  His fiancée (now wife), Justine Karain, is his caddie and he gives her plenty of credit as evident in the interview from the Well Fargo.  Apparently she played golf in high school (the couple met in high school) and is very good at reading putts.  I’ve always been impressed with women caddies because I can’t imagine carrying a 50 pound tour bag and living the life of a caddie.  Also, I am impressed with professional golfers who are “evolved enough” to have a women on the bag (i.e. gender doesn’t matter, the best person for the job) and another reason I like Patrick Reed.  The couple married in December 2012 and they plan to continue being a team on the course.  Let’s hope the Reed’s have a very successful 2013.

Earl Woods gets my vote for founder of “the youth movement” in golf

The Golf Channel Morning Drive Show has a daily poll question and one question was on a topic I have written about often — young golfers.  The question was posed because a 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, Guan Tianlang, won the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and a spot in the 2013 Masters.

Here is the Morning Drive poll question tweeted by Lauren Thompson Twitter coversatin with Lauren Thompson on Morning Drive Poll QuestionI was pleased to get a direct message back from Lauren ThompsonImage of Twitter DM from Lauren Thompson

As you can see from my response to Lauren Thompson I did not select any of the four options.  Yes, I think all (coaching, equipment, global exposure and technology) are important factors but that does not speak to the underlying support system that allows kids to pursue a sport with such intensity at such young ages.

The only way a child can achieve such great success at such a young age is because the parents support it.  There will always be the debate as to whether or not the child truly “wanted” to “live and breathe” golf or if the parents really wanted it for the child.  But either way, the steps the parents must take to create the opportunity is the basis for it all.

Tiger Woods is the most famous child prodigy that ever played the game.  Yes, Tiger has proven his place in history as one of the best golfers ever.  However, I truly believe Earl Woods, Tiger’s father, was the mastermind behind the Tiger brand that exists today.  After all, Earl Woods not only taught his son golf at a young age but also was savvy enough to get his son “exposure” at a very young age.  If you have not seen it, below is the video of 2-year-old Tiger on the Mike Douglas show.

After Tiger, the next young phenom to come along was in women’s golf – Michelle Wie.  At the age of eleven Wei was the youngest player to qualify for a USGA amateur championship.  Wie’s career has not been as stellar as predicted; although she has reaped the financial benefit and fame sponsors like Nike deliver.  In recent years Wie’s poor play has been blamed on her focus on college but now that she is out of school she is still struggling to find her game.  Only time will tell if Wie will become a truly great golfer.  If she does not become a champion golfer then Wei’s rise and fall may become a cautionary tale of burnout or peaking too soon.

In 2012, we have seen a flurry of young golfers making news:

  1. Andy Zhang, a 14-year-old amateur golfer (also Chinese but living in Florida) made history as the youngest player in the US Open.
  2. Lydia Ko, a 15-year-old from New Zealand (originally from South Korea) made history winning the Canadian Open.  Ko is the youngest player to win a LPGA event.
  3. Beau Hossler, a 17-year-old Californian, became a sensation at the 2012 US Open when he took the lead (over Tiger) for a short period of time.
  4. Lexi Thompson won the Navistar LPGA Classic in 2011 at age 16 which triggered Mike Whan, LPGA Commissioner, to waive the 18-year-old age requirement for turning pro and gave Thompson (age 17) her PGA tour card for 2012.
  5. Guan Tianlang, 14-year-old amateur golfer from China, made history as the youngest winner of the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship and will make history in 2013 as the youngest golfer to ever play in the Masters.

So is this a good thing for the sport or not?  Some will say “yes” because it will bring a younger audience to the game and hopefully grow the game for the future.  Some will say “no” for reasons such as it is not good for the child (i.e. the pressure, the travel, the risk of injuries at a young age).  Whatever your opinion there is one thing that is hard to argue and that is “the cat — or should I say, Tiger — is out of the bag” and there is no turning back now.

 

Kevin Na’s personal frustration translates to golf fan frustration with slow play

The big story from the 2012 Players Championship was Kevin Na’s endless struggle with his pre-shot routine.  What I thought was fascinating was that the press was so empathetic and forgiving.  Normally, the press would be very critical but this time it was the fans that were outwardly critical.  The fans were respectful the first three rounds but by the 4th round, the fan frustration was evident with the haggling Na had to endure.

What led to this “gentler and kinder” press?  The answer appears to be in the fact that he did not hide from their questions.  Many reports stated Na “is refreshing” in his admission of his problem.  He not only apologizes to his playing partner but opens up in his press conference explaining:

“I’m trying to get comfortable with my waggles. It’s usually a little waggle, half waggle, little waggle, half waggle, and boom, supposed to pull the triggers. But if it doesn’t work, I’ve got to go in pairs.  So it’ll go four; and if it doesn’t work, it’ll go six; and after that, just — there’s a lot going on in my head. (Laughter).  And it’s not — I’m not being nice to myself, trust me. I’m ripping myself.”  See more of Kevin Na’s press conference at PGAtour.com

Now, I certainly have sympathy for any personal struggle but I must admit that more than once I was yelling at my TV — “just hit the ball.”  Eventually, I turned away from golf (something I rarely do on a Sunday of a big tournament).  I’m sure I am not the only fan that stopped watching.  My reaction is something golf cannot afford. The goal of the golf industry is growth (both in the fan base and in recreational play) and risking that a percentage of the current fan base might “walk away” from a telecast is going in the wrong direction.

Even though the tournament officials put Kevin Na on the clock (which added to his stress); it did not appear (to me) to quicken the pace of play.  Slow play is one of the biggest issues in golf today (both in professional and recreational golf).  If the professional golfers are role models for “how to play” then they need to send the message that playing slow is not acceptable.

Many tour players have expressed their dislike for slow play but it helps the cause when big name players take a stand.  Yesterday the biggest of big name players, Tiger Woods,  stated his opinion on how to fix slow play on tour.  Currently the fine for slow play is $5,000 up to $20,000 depending on the situation.  Tiger Woods said that he believes a penalty stroke should be accessed for slow play.  Woods explained:

“Strokes is money….what’s the difference between first and second [at the Players] right now?… $800,000…that’s one shot, and that’s the difference. That’s what people don’t realize, that one shot is so valuable out here.”

I completely agree with Woods, given the income of professional golfers a $5,000 fine is nothing but a stroke is significant.  A stroke not only impacts the wallet for the professional; but it could impact where they place in the tournament which can also carry over to Fed-Ex points and world rankings.  All of these combined make a stoke penalty a more meaningful deterrent.

Finally, I think the PGA could learn something from the LPGA.  Both the PGA and LPGA do have stroke penalties in the rules for slow play.  Both the PGA and LPGA give the slow player a warning before giving a violation.  But the difference comes when the first violation is given to a player.  The  PGA only imposes a fine; not a stroke on the first violation. The LPGA imposes a fine and stroke on the first violation.

Final word — gentlemen it’s time to follow the ladies lead — give a stroke penalty for the first violation of slow play.

Jason Dufner wins and gets a monkey off his back

Jason Dufner winning the Zurich Classic of New Orleans this weekend is a great example of finally getting a “monkey of your back.”  Why?  Because since the beginning of the golf season, Dufner had been labeled (by some golf analysts) as  “one of the best golfers who has not won a tournament.”

Dufner became a professional in 2000 and he has come close to winning.  One of the big heartbreaking moments was in August 2011, at the PGA Championship.  It looked like Dufner was going to win his first major because he had a five stroke lead with three holes to play.  Unfortunately for Dufner, Keegan Bradley played magnificently to tie Dufner and force a playoff.  Keegan beat Dufner on the third hole of the sudden-death playoff.

The media also started to focus on the fact that he would often times be leading going into the weekend but not be able to close.  No player wants to be viewed as someone who is not a closer.  This week, in New Orleans, Dufner had the lead on Sunday. The end of the tournament was a nail-biter but Jason won on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff with Ernie Els.  Another “Monkey off his back” — Dufner is a closer.

Now with these type of comments, from the media, you would expect to see some reaction for the player.  But not Jason Dunfer. He is the most laid-back, unemotional guy on tour.  Sure, maybe it would be nice to see a more animated reaction to good shots but his style is actually refreshing.  It is a nice contrast from the players that throw or break their clubs when they are angry or do excessive fist pumping when they make a good shot.

He did smile and raise his arms when he won but no major fist pumping or running around the green for Jason Dufner.  Below is a great cartoon tweeted by Steve Elkington from his website Secret In The Dirt (showing Dufner before and after the win).

Dufner CartoonTo me this is the greatest form of flattery. You can see more great golf cartoons at the Secret in the Dirt Cartoon Vault.

Let’s hope the quite, mild-manner Jason Dufner has many more great wins in the coming years.  And, although I’m a big fan of Keegan Bradley (after all he is from New England), I’ll be cheering for Dufner to win the 2012 PGA Championship.

What was the biggest surprise last week in golf — Curtis, Tseng, Wie, or Rio?

I was watching Ben Curtis win the Valero Texas Open yesterday and the thought went through my head that he was a “surprise” winner.  He had not won since the Booz Allen tournament in June 2006.  The surprise about the lack of wins between 2006 and 2012 is fueled by the fact that Curtis is a “Major” winner (he won the British Open at Royal St. George in 2003.)  Curtis won just a few years after turning pro and then did not live up to the expectations of a “Major” winner.  Expectations that now Bubba Watson will have to live up to in the coming years.

But was Ben Curtis the biggest surprise?  If we look at the LPGA tour, we could list the fact that Yani Tseng did not win (she finished tied for 10th at the Lotte Championship in Hawaii.)  But it is not a big surprise to me because I may just be the one person on the planet that does not believe Tseng will win every tournament she enters.

Is the bigger surprise the fact that Michelle Wie missed the cut again (making it three missed cuts in a row?)  I don’t think so.  She has missed three in a row in previous years.  The expectation some folks had that she would come out of Standford University and suddenly be great was ridiculous.  Every top golfer in the world talks about the focus it takes to be at the top of their game.  Wie is struggling because she has not been focused on golf in the last few years and it is clearly showing on the course.  Give her time to get mentally “back into the game.”

I think maybe the biggest surprise for me this week was not how well or poorly a professional golfer played; but the announcement that the site selected for the golf course for the 2016 Olympics is under a land dispute in Rio.  According to an Associated Press article it threatens the ability for the golf course to be ready because if they can’t use the land, they have to start from scratch for the golf course design.  This is a big deal given the designer has stated plans to “break ground” in October 2012.

The article goes on to say that “Elmway Participacoes has been trying to claim ownership of the land for the past three years.”  Really?  You would think the city/organizers of the Olympics would not pick a plot of land that someone has been trying to claim ownership of for three years.  But who knows what is really going on behind closed doors.  But the article also stated that this is not the first time a land dispute caused delays for another major sporting event (world soccer) in Brazil.

Bottom line, I want to see my favorite sport in the Summer Olympics — after all, the last time it was part of the Olympics was 1906 — and I would hate to see “a land dispute” keep it from happening.  Let’s hope the golf course designer, Gil Hanse, doesn’t face too many more surprises.

Professional golfer’s new tool — A chainsaw for Kevin NA

This week the PGA goes to Texas for the Velero Texas Open and the most written and talked about moment, prior to the tournament, is not about last year’s winner but about Kevin Na’s score on the par-4, 9th hole — the score was 16!  If you like to see “melt downs” watch the video.

So what will Kevin Na shoot on the 9th hole this week in Texas?  My guess is he will be happy with par but hoping to birdie the hole to show everyone that the 9th hole is not going to be his nemesis.  Na has a great sense of humor about it.  He went back to the place of his melt down this week and took a chainsaw to the overgrowth (photo from PGA tour).

PGA Tour Image of Kevin Na

Now that is one way to destroy your demons on the golf course.  And, now for a disclaimer — stunt by a professional golfer, do not try this on your home course.