Monday, November 21, 2011

Will U.S. carry good vibes into the 2012 Ryder Cup?

Observations from watching the Presidents Cup:

-- What is it about the Presidents Cup that seems so easy for the American team as compared to the Ryder Cup, which sometimes resembles a collective nervous breakdown?

That's the mystery captain Davis Love III will try to solve between now and the Ryder Cup matches next fall at Medinah outside Chicago. Whatever captain Fred Couples has done the last two times worked beautifully but Jack Nicklaus had similar success.

It helps when putts fall. Just ask Tiger.

-- Webb Simpson's breakout year got even better at the Presidents Cup where he won three early points, teaming with Bubba Watson. Simpson looked totally comfortable at Royal Melbourne, seeming to thrive in match play.

He's likely to be a fixture on U.S. teams for the next decade so it's encouraging to see him play so well. Wonder if Love has already penciled in Simpson and Bubba together at Medinah?

-- It was a nice touch to see Tiger Woods get the winning point in the Sunday singles, given all the controversy surrounding Couples' early decision to add him to the team.

Tiger didn't get a lot of help from his partners Steve Stricker and Dustin Johnson in the foursomes and four-balls but you can see his game coming back. He made six birdies Sunday -- more than anyone in singles -- and looked like a guy who was happy to be there. That was good to see.

-- Team MVP honors belong to Jim Furyk, who turned his lost season around and posted a 5-0 mark in the Presidents Cup. He's never been flashy -- and watching Furyk and Phil Mickelson reading putts together can be patience-testing -- but Furyk has been one of the best players of his generation. Last week at Royal Melbourne just reconfirmed that.

-- Royal Melbourne was beautiful proof that golf courses don't have to be 8,000 yards long with knee-deep rough to challenge the game's best players.

It was filled with short par-4s and medium-length par-3s and stood up to the best players in the world. The greens are magnificent, a perfect blend of speed, firmness and contour, demanding imagination, nerve and touch. The bunkering is spectacular and, as others have suggested, why can't more courses here groom their bunkers like those at Royal Melbourne where shots carom off bunker slopes and gather at the bottom?

-- With a good blend of young players and veterans, the U.S. should be strong when Love captains the Ryder Cup team next year. A couple of names may change but the bulk of the Presidents Cup roster will probably be at Medinah next fall. That should put a smile on Love's face.

Photo: Bill Haas of the U.S. team and teammate Webb Simpson of Charlotte pose with the Presidents Cup trophy Sunday.  David Cannon - Getty

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Nagy one big step away from PGA Tour

To have any chance of earning a PGA Tour card for 2012, Corey Nagy understood Friday what he needed to do.

Nagy, the former Charlotte 49ers star, needed to save par on the last hole of his second-stage qualifying tournament in Brooksville, Fla., from a spot where he seemed certain to make a bogey. Nagy was riding the cut line and he wasn't positive a par save would get him to the qualifying school finals in California later this month but he knew a bogey would assure him of playing more mini-tour golf in 2012.

From the thickest rough on the course and to a hole cut in a diffcult spot, Nagy saved par by nearly holing his chip shot, allowing him to slide into a tie for 18th (only the top 21 and ties advanced) and into a new chapter in his career.

If Nagy plays well enough in the six-round qualifying school finals at PGA West in Palm Springs, Cal., he'll earn his PGA Tour privileges for next year. The worst case scenario is Nagy will have at least conditional status on the Nationwide Tour.

"It's pretty awesome," said Nagy, who moved from a tie for 31st to 18th on the last day of the second-stage qualifier at Southern Hills Plantation Club. "I wasn't sure at that moment if it would be enough but I knew I'd done what I could do.

"You know when you start that if you don't play well, you basically don't have a job next year so I definitely felt the pressure."

In preparation for the second stage, Nagy played a practice round at Quail Hollow Club with Webb Simpson and Johnson Wagner, both winners on the PGA Tour this year.

"They encouraged me," Nagy said. "They told me I was good enough and told me to stay patient."

Charlotte's Fernando Mecheffe also advanced to the final stage of qualifying school though Brian Bigley, who played in the Wells Fargo Championship in May, missed advancing by one stroke as did former North Carolina golf coach John Inman.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Couples talks about Jordan missing Presidents Cup

  Obviously, Michael Jordan has more pressing business than serving as an assistant to U.S. captain Fred Couples at the Presidents Cup matches this week in Australia, a duty he served two years ago when the matches were in San Francisco.
   Here's a portion of Bob Verdi's interview with Couples on today with the captain talking about Jordan's involvement with the team:
  Do you miss Michael Jordan?
"I know Phil does. They had some nice card games in San Francisco. Gin. But all the guys miss him. And the caddies. He fit in so well at Harding Park. The guys loved having him there. He even gave a little pep talk to the team. And you saw how he helped out. Almost adopted Sean O'Hair."
He's got important business back in the States.
"Yeah, he's a majority owner of an NBA team in Charlotte and they're having a lockout. He called me three weeks ago and said he just couldn't make it. I wasn't surprised, because he's got to be part of the negotiations so they can get that thing straightened out. He did send all the caddies and us captains and co-captains a pair of Air Jordans, though. And I'm sure we'll hear from him while we're over here."
Did Michael say anything else?
"Actually, he did. When he called, he asked me if I could do one thing for him. I'm thinking, 'What the heck can I do for Michael Jordan?' Well, he asked for the U.S. Team golf bag we had made up for him with his name on it. Which was pretty cool, when you think about it. I think it shows how much he enjoyed being part of our team in San Francisco. I got a little criticism for naming him, too, but again, how can you not want Michael Jordan around? We had the two greatest athletes in the world in our room at Harding Park. Michael and Tiger. And there's something wrong with that?"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Mickelson gets what he deserves -- a spot in the Hall of Fame

Phil Mickelson didn't need to be elected to the World Golf Hall of Fame for his place in the game's history to be secure but the news today that he'll be inducted next May made it official.

As a matter of full disclosure, I voted for Mickelson this year, the first time he was on the ballot. We can quibble about whether guys still in the prime of their careers should be put into a Hall of Fame -- I personally think 50 should be the starting point for eligibility -- but, regardless, Mickelson was automatic.

   Somehow, his wife Amy and caddie Jim 'Bones' Mackay belong in there, too, and I'm sure Phil will include them in his induction speech.

   Mickelson is the best kind of professional golfer, at once mesmerizing, thrilling, charismatic, worrisome and unique. He's got a touch of Arnold Palmer about him and, next to his short game, his greatest strength may be his smile.

   It goes a long way in explaining his rock star status. Fans adore Mickelson. They respected Tiger but they've loved Phil.

   I've been fortunate to watch Mickelson from close range through the years and following him through galleries between greens and tees, especially when he's been in contention in major championships, makes you wonder if that's how Elvis must've felt at times.

   There was a time when we wondered if Mickelson could win a major championship. His damn the torpedos style was great for television but not necessarily great for avoiding trouble. It's easy to tick off the moments when he flamed out but it's easier to look at his collection of green jackets and trophies and appreciate that we've been watching one of the all-time greats for the past two decades.

   Another generation had Nicklaus and Palmer. We've had Mickelson and Woods, pretty good stuff.

   It was trendy to be cynical about Mickelson earlier in his career. His smile came too easily. He said all the right things.

   That cynicism, like questions about his ability to win majors, disappeared long ago. People shared his disappointment after the debacle at the U.S. Open at Winged Foot. They felt his pain when Amy and his mother were diagnosed with breast cancer.

   Mickleson has been different in so many good ways. As David Feherty has said, there's a mad scientist quality to Mickelson that makes him all the more intriguing.

    Golfers like Mickelson don't come along often, nor do people like him. It's our good fortune he came along when he did.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Steve Williams, golf's new drama king

   We're approaching the second anniversary of the great fire hydrant moment that changed Tiger Woods forever and you'd think things would have settled down by now.

   Instead, the swirl continues, the latest chapter coming over the weekend when Steve Williams, Woods' former caddie, offered his crass observation about wanting to shove a victory, well, you know what he said.

  For a guy who should have learned his lesson with the way he mishandled Adam Scott's first victory with him on the bag, Stevie redoubled his error by taking another public shot at Tiger. It was off the record, Williams said. No, it wasn't. Not when you say something like that in front of group of players, caddies and  media members.

   What it was was regrettable and, potentially, career-crashing. 

   For whatever reason, Williams attracted an outpouring of goodwill when, after being dismissed by Woods, Scott won the WGC Bridgestone Invitational with Stevie toting his clubs. In an unfortunate lapse of judgment on both sides, Williams was interviewed on television before the man who actually won the tournament.

   Williams took a little too much joy in the moment, it seemed.

  Now this. 

   He and Tiger talked in Australia this week, Williams apologized and they made peace, at least publicly. The sting will linger, though.

  Through the years covering Woods, I tended to give Williams the benefit of the doubt with his sometimes aggressive manner. He was asked to be more than a caddie. He was also a bodyguard, in the midst of a media and popularity storm. He had to be the bad cop when the moment demanded it.

   Too often, he seemed to take the role one club too far.

   Now he's embarrassed himself and put a stain on himself that won't soon disappear. 

   Will Adam Scott fire him, tired of the drama that has come with having Williams on the bag? If he were going to, he'd have probably done it already.

   Should he fire him?

  That's Scott's call but I can't imagine Williams has any more strikes left.

  He shouldn't. 

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Jordan will sit out Presidents Cup

   The Presidents Cup matches later this month in Australia will have to go on without Michael Jordan.

   Jordan had been one of captain Fred Couples' assistants but due to the NBA lockout and his duties as owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, Jordan has been replaced by John Cook. The business of basketball has intruded.

   "With the NBA labor situation unsettled, as the majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats, I feel it is necessary that I remain in the country," Jordan said in a statement.

   Given Jordan's fondness for golf and his regular participation in previous Ryder Cups and Presidents Cups, there's no question he'll miss being at Royal Melbourne with Couples and the boys. Who wouldn't?

   The American team will miss Michael and his cigars, too. He is, after all, still Michael Jordan.

   And it is basketball season. Or, hopefully, it soon will be.