Thursday, June 23, 2011

Golf's New Era: That's what it feels like

   The cover of this week's Sports Illustrated magazine (above) has Rory McIlroy hitting his tee shot on the  10th hole at Congressional last Sunday -- the shot that was nearly an ace -- and proclaims his U.S. Open victory the start of 'Golf's New Era.'

   It feels that way.

  Nothing against the other first-time major champions in recent years -- Charl Schwartzel, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, et. al -- but McIlroy's victory looked and felt different. It seems like a moment when the professional game turned a corner, stepping out of the Woods-Mickelson era and into what may be McIlroy's era.

   That's a great thing.

   What happened at Congressional was the best thing to happen to professional golf since Tiger beat Rocco Mediate on a bum leg. McIlroy's performance was something special, establishing him as a mega-star here in the United States. We got a glimpse of his brilliance when he won at Quail Hollow last year but McIlroy's performance at the U.S. Open -- after what had happened at the Masters -- was transformative.

   Is this a rush to judgment, anointing McIlroy as Tiger's successor?

   Not likely.

   Woods will return, no doubt with a new fire to prove he can reclaim the mountain he once stood atop. But now he's forced to deal with McIlroy in the way Jack Nicklaus had to deal with Tom Watson.

   Beyond his game, there's a grace about McIlroy that's endearing. It will get tested by the new demands on him -- demands that will likely increase over the next few years if his career unfolds as expected -- but it seems to be a part of him, something that comes as naturally as his golf swing.

   After the angst about what happens next to professional golf after what has happened the past two years, the answer arrived last week at the U.S. Open.

   That explains the smiles.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Feherty: 'I'd Ask (Woods) If He Confused Fun With Happiness'

   When The Golf Channel decided to give David Feherty his own show -- 'Feherty' premiered Monday night and is on again Tuesday at 9 p.m. in what will be its regular time slot -- it provided the popular golf announcer an outlet for his humor, his personality and his insights.

  There's a brilliance to Feherty that makes him both entertaining and insightful. The idea of the show is to capture much of what Feherty has to offer but doesn't fit into his role as a reporter on tournament weekends.   

   A recently nationalized American citizen, Feherty is deeply devoted to the armed forces, particularly to soldiers who have been injured in combat. It's his great passion and the show allows him an opportunity to draw attention to the soldiers he admires.

   It also allows Feherty to interview some of the game's biggest figures. He started with Lee Trevino in the premiere episode and has Tom Watson and Johnny Miller, among others, lined up. Feherty wants to talk about golf but he also wants to talk about life, coming at the interview from his own unique perspective.

   Feherty's goal is to get Tiger Woods to sit down for an extended interview. While it would be great for his show, Feherty admits, he thinks it would help Woods, too. So far, Feherty has been unsuccessful in landing the Tiger interview.

   "I'm sorry we just hammered on him so much that whatever we did to him, we forced him into a hole. It's not all our fault, obviously. You've got to be able to stand up and deal with these things," Feherty said.

  "The worst thing in the world was not being Tiger Woods. It was okay for a long time and it's probably still okay but I think he would be a lot happier if he got a bunch of (stuff) off his chest and was asked the right questions and given the right forum in which to answer them. He doesn't trust so many people.

  "We expect so much from him. I don't think anybody can possibly understand how he feels at the minute because no one has been where he's been and come down to where he is now. The level of frustration, the level of disappointment he must feel, I don't think there's been another athlete, I can't think of one, that would have gone through such a thing.

  "It doesn't matter whose fault it is at the end of the day. That's irrelevant. You were here and now you're there and you're hurt. It would be very easy to feel the world is against you. I suspect he doesn't feel like that but I know he's like a badger in his set right now. He's not coming out, not for anybody."

   If he were to land the interview, what would Feherty ask Woods?

  "I'd ask him if he could change one thing in his life, what would it be?," Feherty said.

  "I would ask if he confused fun with happinesss, thinking they're the same thing. I'm an addict and that's what I did. I thought fun and happiness were the same thing. They're not. They're entirely different. That's a common thing among all addicts. They get those two things mixed up. What happens when you blend fun and happiness? It turns into unhappiness."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Is That The Best American Golf Can Do?

   Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus?

   That's the best American golf can do in its national championship?

    Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus?

   Nothing against the former NCAA champion, who may be a very good pro but if you had Kevin Chappell to finish as the low American in your U.S.Open pool, you did it by blind draw.Garrigus's chances were shorter than his putter.

    But that's where American professional golf is at the moment.

   To be fair, Tiger Woods is on the DL and he changes the equation. Get him healthy again and suddenly we're not starting a major championship two-down. We at least have a chance of winning.

   The way it stands now, we're relying on Bo Van Pelt to carry the flag. Phil Mickelson's game has gone on walkabout to the point he's not sure where to start the fix-it project. Steve Stricker had a solid U.S. Open but made two double-bogeys on the back nine Sunday when he'd climbed into a tie for fourth.

   The Golf Boys weren't a factor, except in the endless replaying their video received on The Golf Channel. Dustin Johnson made the cut but no noise. Ryan Palmer had a good week.

    Anthony Kim finished behind Kyung-Tae Kim and Dohoon Kim.
   European Tour members, in case you haven't been reminded enough, have won the last five major championships.

   Martin Kaymer, who won one of those recent major championships, was asked what this week says about American golf.

   "It says," Kaymer said, "that the Americans struggle a little bit...since Tiger has been on a, how do you say, a little down."
   That says it nicely.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Watching Rory Means Watching History

   So, you may be wondering, what's the point of watching the final round of the U.S. Open, seeing as how Rory McIlroy has an eight-stroke lead with 18 holes to play?

   Watch for the history McIlroy is on the verge of making.

   Watch because, after a couple of false starts including the Masters two months ago, McIlroy is ready to deliver the biggest victory of his just-blooming career.

   Watch because he's playing the way Jack and Tiger played in their primes. If that sounds like I'm talking about Woods in the past tense, it feels that way this week and will continue to feel that way until Tiger returns in full form, assuming that eventually happens.

   What McIlroy has given us through three almost make-believe days has been any glowing adjective you choose to apply -- spectacular, extraordinary, remarkable. It would be impressive enough to torch any field by such a wide margin but to do it in the U.S. Open while posting such gaudy numbers is, well, Tiger-esque. Even Tiger never posted 199 through three rounds in the U.S. Open, though he did lead by 10 entering the final round at Pebble Beach in 2000.

   "It's not over yet. I can't speculate on what's going to happen before it happens but he's a tremendous player," Steve Stricker, the world's fourth-ranked golfer, said Saturday.

   "He's got a lot of talent and he's only 22. He's got the world in front of him really. His game looks flawless. His swing looks great. I think it looks just as good as when Tiger was in his prime and swinging at it at his best. You just don't see any flaws."

   At the Masters two months ago, McIlroy carried a four-stroke lead into the final round and it looked for all the azaleas in Georgia as if he would be adding a green jacket to his wardrobe. His lead was gone an hour into the final round and, by the end, so was McIlroy's game.

    But his confidence, the thing you'd think might have taken the most damage, was only dinged -- and only temporarily. There has not been a more confident player at Congressional this week and there's no reason to think anything will change on Sunday.

   That doesn't mean McIlroy won't be nervous despite his eight-shot advantage but he's supposed to be nervous. He's never won a major and even if he wins 10 of them, he'll be nervous on Sunday trying to win his 11th. It's easy to say that Sunday is the biggest day in McIlroy's career and it is. But we said the same thing at the Masters two months ago and if McIlroy is what we think he is -- the game's next great player -- what happened at Augusta National will make it him better today and beyond.

   It's worth watching today -- and for years to come.

Friday, June 17, 2011

McIlroy Making A Tough Open Look Easy

  Was the double bogey Rory McIlroy made on Congressional's 18th hole Friday a signal that this U.S. Open isn't as close to being over as it appears or was it merely a mistake by young McIlroy that won't have any serious long-term consequences?

   I lean toward the latter, thinking if anything the sudden double may have jarred McIlroy just enough to keep him on edge over the coming weekend. Sure, the U.S. Open keeps everyone on edge, even the guy hawking Cokes in the concession stand but McIlroy was making it look so good, so effortless that it was as if he were playing a different game.

   He got away with a chunky tee shot at the watery par-3 10th that barely cleared the water but, otherwise, McIlroy was flawless until the 18th hole. It conjured up memories of Tiger Woods in 2000 in the sustained brilliance.

   McIlroy is doing the hard stuff and making it look easy. He was often out-driving playing partners Dustin Johnson and spray-hitting Phil Mickelson, usually striping it down the middle while his companions were playing the edges.

    What impressed me was the par McIlroy made at the 494-yard uphill par-4 11th. It's a monster of a hole with a slender creek along the right side and a lily pad-flecked pond beside the green. McIlroy put his second shot in the left greenside bunker, leaving himself a wicked sand shot across a narrow green to hole tucked just a few feet from the pond.

    McIlroy played his bunker shot to within eight feet of the hole and, like Tiger used to do, he center-cut the par putt. It was the kind of par that wins U.S. Opens.

    While waiting for McIlroy to finish Friday, his agent Chubby Chandler was watching from behind the 18th green. When someone suggested two rounds of par or better would win for McIlroy this weekend, Chandler quickly hushed the talk, saying it should "be put in the fridge for a while longer."

   Moments later, McIlroy made a mess of the finishing hole.

   It was a lousy way to finish what has been a remarkable start.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

This May Be McIlroy's Major Moment

   Eighteen holes -- and 65 strokes -- into this U.S. Open, Rory McIlroy is in a precarious and enviable position.

   McIlroy is on the edge of becoming golf's next great player as he demonstrated again in the first round at Congressional. He made the game -- and the notoriously hateful -- U.S. Open look as easy as saying thank you. McIlroy carved up Congressional, staking himself to a three-stroke lead at the one-quarter post of the year's second major championship.

   But McIlroy has been here before. It's the third time in the last four majors that he's led after the first round but he still doesn't have a major championship trophy. No harm in that, considering his just 22 but he's nearing the point where experience could turn into scar tissue.

    After 63 to open the British Open at St. Andrews, he shot 80 in a gale on the second day. He three-putted away a chance to be in the PGA Championship playoff won by Martin Kaymer last August and then there was the Masters just two months ago.

   We know how that ended.

   To his credit, McIlroy smiled about his Masters meltdown earlier this week when he was complimented for taking questions after shooting 80 to lose by 10 strokes. "I had five or six holes to think about what I was going to say," McIlroy cracked.

   Now he's in the lead of the U.S. Open and two questions leap to mind:

  -- Is this the major when Rory keeps his foot on the gas and wins by half a dozen?

  -- Or, what if it gets away again?

   To be fair, it's only one round of this U.S. Open and it could look very different by Friday evening but McIlroy has staked himself to the lead. Someone else could play better than McIlroy over the next three days and wiin, a reasonable possibility.

   But whom would you rather have than McIlroy right now?
   He has a game as big as the sky and a spirit that, so far at least, seems undamaged by his previous near misses. McIlroy appears to have the gift that the great ones have -- he loves the big moment.

    He didn't handle it well at the Masters, falling victim to the classic mistake of letting the game change speeds on him. Time after time, players who've lost leads talk about getting out of their rhythm and not being able to slow down when things are coming apart. It's what McIlroy said happened to him.

   It's tough to pause, take a deep breath, take another one and turn down the speed. Maybe that will be the great lesson McIlroy learned at Augusta, the one that could carry him this week.

   This is a guy who got ready for the U.S. Open by doing a UNICEF tour in Haiti where nobody cares whether he wins or loses this weekend. Unless he's fooling all of us -- and I don't think he is -- McIlroy has an old head on his shoulders.

    He's been here before which makes it all the more interesting to see where he goes from here.  

RBC, Boeing Lock Up Heritage Sponsorship For Five Years

The Harbour Town lighthouse and the PGA Tour are staying together for at least five more years.

After two years of uncertainty, the RBC Heritage presented by Boeing became a reality Thursday with the five-year sponsorship announcement Thursday on Hilton Head Island, S.C. It will keep the popular tournament fixed on the tour schedule in its traditional spot the week after the Masters.

In making the announcement, PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem credited South Carolina governor Nikki Haley for her persistence in locating a sponsor.

"I don't recall a time when any state official or elected official has put the energy and time and commitment behind making this happen as the governor has," Finchem said. "She has been on this 24-4 for a number of weeks. She wasn't going to take no for an answer."

Heritage Golf Announcement Due Today

    South Carolina governor Nikki Haley and PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem are scheduled to make a 1 p.m.. announcement today about the future of the Heritage golf tournament on Hilton Head Island, S.C.

   The tournament has been searching for a title sponsor with its future on the tour schedule hanging in the balance.

   Tournament director Steve Wilmot said during the event in April that there had been encouraging signs in the hunt for a title sponsor but declined to get into specifics. Tour players have been outspoken in their support of the tournament, which has been played at Harbour Town Golf Links for more than 40 years.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

'Oh, Oh, Oh' says it all about Golf Boys

Some things speak for themselves.

Otherwise, trying to explain why PGA Tour players Ben Crane, Hunter Mahan, Bubba Watson and Rickie Fowler have gone boy band and are in a video for their potential viral hit "Oh, Oh, Oh" may be asking too much.

It's a fund-raising move with Farmers Insurance promising to donate $1,000 to one of Crane's charity initiatives for every 100,000 views it gets. Based on the early reaction, there could be plenty of money headed to charity.

If you haven't seen it, here it is:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

U.S. Open Pairings -- A Good Way To Start

   So much for the idea that the USGA lacks a sense of humor.

   If the first and second-round pairings for next week's U.S. Open aren't knee-slapping funny, they're at least amusing in the way bossman Mike Davis and his colleagues put threesomes together for the first 36 holes. It's something the organization began quietly doing a few years back, inserting a handful of pairings that made you go hmmmm.

   Now it's part of the Open

   This year, there's the obvious 1-2-3 pairing of Luke Donald, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, based on the world rankings. Maybe it's not as sexy as Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott together a couple of years ago but pretty good nonetheless.

   There's an international theme to this year's pairings, which fits with the current state of professional golf, which has its power base outside the United States at the moment.

   There's the Spanish grouping: Miguel Angel Jimenez, Sergio Garcia and Alvaro Quiros, pulling together the Mechanic, the Brooder and the Bomber.

   There's the all-Sweden pairing of Johan Edfors, Henrik Stenson and Fredrik Jacobson. Wonder how that makes Robert Karlsson, the highest-ranked Swede feel? Of course, he's paired with Bubba Watson and Adam Scott, in what could resemble a long drive contest.

   The Italian pairing features the Molinari brothers -- Eduardo and Francesco -- along with Matteo Manassero. Bellisimo.
   The Marty Hackel threesome has Rickie Fowler, Ian Poulter and Hunter Mahan together in the fashion-forward grouping. Big hats, big shades, big ego. You can figure which goes with which.

   The best pairing, though, has Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson together. If you need me, that's where I'll be Thursday and Friday.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Have Funk, Perry And Calc Found What Was Missing?

   It's not just us.

   The best players in the world lose touch with their golf games, too. Sometimes it's a little thing, sometimes it's a big thing. Sometimes it's between the ears. Sometimes it's between the backswing and the downswing.

   Three of the top players in the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn this weekend are working through changes and each of them sounds excited by it.

   Fred Funk was considering taking the summer off he was hitting it so poorly. Everybody thinks Funk looks so happy and bouncy on the course -- and he does -- but he hadn't been feeling that way because the game had turned mean. He even apologized to his 15-year old son, Taylor, for showing him how not to act on the golf course.

   Last week, though, Funk decided to quit listening to advice others had given and to go back to playing the way he used to play, when he missed a fairway about once a month. Three holes into a U.S. Open qualifier Monday in Maryland, Funk had found his missing mojo. He played his way into the Open at Congressional, getting teary-eyed after realizing what he'd done, and regardless of how he plays at Rock Barn (he's bothered by a thumb problem right now) or at Congressional, Funk says he's back in a good place with golf again.

   Mark Calcavecchia got an unsolicited phone call from former tour player turned television commentator Bob Murphy recently. Murphy told Calc that he'd noticed how he got more hunched over on shorter putts. Stand taller, Murphy said, like you do on the long ones and Calcavecchia is already seeing a difference.

   And then there's Kenny Perry, who had worked himself into a swing pattern that had him hitting shots fat. He lost some of his power and crisp shots were becoming increasingly rare. A visit with an old swing coach has helped Perry get back on the right path, though there's still progress to be made.

   "I'm seeing signs of life," Perry said.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Who's The Fastest, Slowest On The PGA Tour?

   The five fastest and slowest players on the PGA Tour according to a survey done by Golf Magazine who timed every shot hit by 45 players over nine holes in the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year.

   Too bad there aren't more Rickie Fowlers out there and too bad the tour and other golf organizations don't crack down harder on slow play. Just watch how long it takes at the U.S. Open next week.

Five fastest (Average time per shot)

1. Rickie Fowler (16 seconds)

2. Jhonny Vegas (21 seconds)

3. Brian Davis (22 seconds)

4. Chris Kirk (23 seconds)

5. Cameron Beckman (25 seconds)

Five slowest

1. Nick O'Hern (55 seconds)

2. J.B. Holmes (52 seconds)

3. John Senden (51 seconds)

4. Kevin Na (50 seconds)

5. Charlie Wi (50 seconds)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Will We Ever See The Old Tiger Again?

Tiger Woods' announcement Tuesday that he won't play in the U.S. Open next week due to lingering problems with his left knee and Achilles was a disappointment but not a surprise.

The question now is will we ever again see the Tiger we marveled at for so many years?

Maybe not.

Even if he lost you when his personal life came apart, his golf was impossible to ignore. He has played golf better than anyone ever, Jack Nicklaus included.

But what once seemed preordained -- that Woods would surpass Nicklaus's record of 18 major championship victories -- now seems increasingly doubtful. Woods has been stuck at 14 since he won the 2008 U.S. Open on a broken leg at Torrey Pines near San Diego when it seemed he was capable of anything.

If Woods doesn't tie or break Nicklaus's record, it should be because he didn't make it happen. Not because he couldn't make it happen.

There's a big difference.

Woods has had four surgeries on his left knee and he's been hobbling since he hurt himself in the third round of the Masters almost two months ago. He says he hopes to play in the AT&T National he hosts next month and get back to a regular schedule after that but Woods also hoped to play at Quail Hollow and to go more than nine holes at the Players Championship last month.

As Woods was stacking up major championships in his 20s, we imagined what he would do when he hit his mid-30s, typically the prime of a professional golfer's life. No one expected this.

He’s only 35 but it seems like an old 35, at least right now.

The great golf writer Dan Jenkins was half-joking years ago when he said the only thing that could stop Tiger would be a bad marriage or an injury. Well...

Nicklaus doesn't want his record broken but he wants to see Tiger give it his best shot. He wants to see the old Tiger, ripping at tee shots, gouging iron shots out of the rough, walking putts into the hole. That was golf like we've never seen it.

When Nicklaus spoke by phone to Woods recently, he told Tiger as much.

"(It) is the same thing I've said to him a thousand times, 'Tiger, nobody wants records to be broken. That's obvious. I don't care who it is,'" Nicklaus said at his Memorial Tournament last week. "But I certainly don't want you not to be healthy and not have the opportunity to play to break records. I want you to get yourself healthy...get your golf game back in shape and I wish you well, wish you good luck.'"

Jack’s record deserves Tiger’s best shot.

Woods Rules Himself Out Of U.S. Open

   Tiger Woods will not play in the U.S. Open next week at Congressional due to continuing problems with his left knee and Achilles.

   Woods made the announcement on his website today.

  "I am extremely disappointed that I won't be playing in the U.S. Open, but it's time for me to listen to my doctors and focus on the future," Woods said. "I was hopeful that I could play, but if I did, I risk further damage to my left leg. My knee and Achilles tendon are not fully healed. I hope to be ready for AT&T National, the next two majors and the rest of the year."
   It's just one more twist in Woods' career that has veered off course over the past 20 months. Woods, still at 14 career major championship victories, has not won a major since he beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff to win the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. 
   This will be the first U.S. Open Woods has missed since 1994.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Carolinas Golf Hall Adds Hoch, Ward and Boswell

    Long-time golf writer Howard Ward, amateur Larry Boswell and tour player Scott Hoch have been voted into the Carolinas Golf Hall of Fame.
   It's a deserving honor for each of them.
   Hoch is the most familiar, having been born in Raleigh and played his college golf at Wake Forest. Though he's remembered by many for the two-footer he missed that would have won him the 1989 Masters over Nick Faldo, Hoch was one of the PGA Tour's most consistently good players for years. He won 11 times and was often at his best on tough courses.
   He played on two Ryder Cup teams and won the 1986 Vardon Trophy for low scoring average on the tour. He's scheduled to play in the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn next week in Conover.
   Ward, a long-time friend of mine, has been writing golf for more than 50 years, most of the time for the Fayetteville Observer from which he retired in 1997. He's cared about both the big-time players and the not so big, sharing their stories with readers. Ward knows golf and it shows when he writes about it, something he continues to do today for The Pilot newspaper in Southern Pines.
   Boswell has won Carolinas Golf Association championships in five decades, collecting 13 different trophies, third-most behind Dale Morey and Paul Simson.
   The public is invited to the induction dinner Aug. 14 at The Carolina in Pinehurst. Details are available at

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Couples Past Skin Scare, Limiting Champions Tour Play

  When Fred Couples went to a dermatologist last month to have a couple of moles examined at the request of his girlfriend, the moles they were worried about weren't a problem.

   But Couples wound up having 13 moles frozen off his hands, perhaps alleviating a potentially serious problem.

   "I don't think it's anything horrible, but at the time (the doctor) scared the hell out of me just by the way she looked at me and what she said," Couples said at a pre-tournament media session at The Memorial Tournament this week.

   "I don't wear sunscreen, but I just didn't have spots on my hands to figure that I needed 13 of them removed."

   After the marks were removed, Couples said he had blisters on his hands that were big enough he couldn't put his hands in his pockets. He's better now, good enough to play Muirfield Village this week in one of his rare PGA Tour appearances.

   "A couple people asked me if it was contagious and a few other things through the airport. It's pretty fun. I wish I could have put my hands in my pants so no one could have seen all this stuff. Thirteen blisters on your hands, you start to think people are looking at you like you've got something," Couples said.

   Couples also indicated he'll play sparingly on the Champions Tour this year because he's been bothered by back issues. His appearance at the Memorial coincided with a meeting of potential Presidents Cup team members. Couples is captain of the Presidents Cup team going to Australia later this year.

   "I haven't felt as good, so I've stayed away from playing the Champions Tour, because it doesn't serve me any justice to go play out there and finish 25th or 30th because I can't physically hit the ball," Couples said.

  "I continue to feel mediocre when I play, so that's why I'm not playing much on the Champions Tour. I really like the Champions Tour. This is just an odd year, and hopefully in the near future I'll start to feel better and hopefully play a little at the end of the year and it'll be a nice quiet year and I can come out at age 52 and start playing again on the Champions Tour again next year."

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Kenny Perry Adds To Rock Barn Field Next Week

   Kenny Perry has committed to play in the Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn next week as he chases his first Champions Tour victory.

   Perry, who is playing in The Memorial on the PGA Tour this week, adds to an already strong field for the event which runs June 6-12 at Rock Barn.

   In addition to Perry, other top players in the field include Bernhard Langer, on the mend from thumb surgery that has sidelined him this season, Nick Price, Mark O'Meara, John Cook, Mark Calcavecchia, Fred Funk, Peter Jacobsen, Tom Kite, Hal Sutton, Fuzzy Zoeller and defending champion Gary Hallberg, among others.

   Last year's runner-up, Fred Couples, has indicated he plans to play at Rock Barn but has not yet officially committed.