Tuesday, December 16, 2008

De Jonge is Nationwide Tour POY

Charlotte resident Brendon de Jonge capped a big year by being named Nationwide Tour player of the year in a vote of his fellow tour members.

De Jonge, a native of Zimbabwe who has lived in Charlotte for more than three years, had one victory, one second-place finish and three thirds in a season in which he finished second on the money list.

A graduate of Virginia Tech, de Jonge will return to the PGA Tour in 2009. He played the tour in 2007.

In other awards announced by the PGA Tour:

-- Padraig Harrington has been selected player of the year after winning two major championships. Harrington is the first European player to win the award;

-- Bernhard Langer is the Champions Tour player of the year and rookie of the year after winning three events;

-- Andres Romero captured the PGA Tour rookie of the year award;

-- And, Dudley Hart was named comeback player of the year after posting six top-10 finishes while playing on a major medical extension in 2008.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Wie, LPGA tour need each other -- badly

At 19, Michelle Wie has been through the full circle of stardom, and it's only now that she should be starting her LPGA career.

In reading through various stories from Daytona Beach, Fla., where Michelle Wie earned full status on the LPGA Tour Sunday, I was struck by a comment made by her instructor, David Leadbetter.

He said Michelle Wie needs the LPGA and the LPGA needs her.

Spot on.

It's funny how Wie seems to have been around forever and she's only 19. In fact, she's only now getting ready to start her career.

She will arrive on the 2009 LPGA tour having already lived the full circle of stardom. As a 14-year-old, Wie nearly won an LPGA major and threatened several more times before her career came unhinged two years ago.

A wrist injury started the downward spiral and it got ugly. Her game went away and so did a measure of her charm. She pulled out of a PGA Tour event with heat-related problems and walked off the course at the Ginn Tribute near Charleston, S.C., last year to avoid shooting a score so high it would have made her ineligible to play the tour the rest of the season.

Her game, which looked so great when she had the world watching her attempt to qualify for the men's U.S. Open, crumbled, taking her confidence with it.

Gradually, though, she has built back her game and when she hits the tour full time next year, the timing couldn't be better.

The LPGA Tour, which plays approximately one-third of its events outside the U.S. is feeling the effects of the economy coupled with the loss of Annika Sorenstam. Sure, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Lorena Ochoa are stars but they haven't shown the ability to pull the casual fan to them.

Michelle Wie can do that.

She has enormous star power. While the guidance she has received to this point is questionable -- she pushed the playing against the men thing way too far -- this is a fresh start for her.

When Wie tees it up in February at the SBS Open in Hawaii, it will be a new day for her and the tour.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Tiger Woods is POY -- in 6 starts

Padraig Harrington is a very nice man. If niceness were handicapped, he'd be about a plus-6.

He also won two major championships this year, which secured his eventual spot in the Hall of Fame and reconfirmed his place among the handful of best players in the world even if he did fizzle at the Ryder Cup.

The point of this is to exorcise a wee bit of guilt I feel about not voting for Harrington as the PGA Tour's player of the year.

But Tiger Woods wins again.

I know he played just six PGA Tour events but that was enough.

Tiger won four times, finished second once and fifth in the other event.

Remember the bomb he made on the 72nd hole to win Bay Hill?

And how about the way he came back to beat J.B. Holmes in the Match Play Championship?

Those are career memories for most guys but for Tiger they amounted to window dressing this year when compared to his victory in the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines.

Years from now, decades from now, in fact, people will talk about how Woods won the Open while essentially playing on one leg. He did it on guts and will and with whatever that special thing is he possesses that makes him different from everyone else.

He called it his most meaningful major championship victory and Tiger isn't one to brag.
Harrington may win player of the year and it will be justified.

Vijay Singh locked down the FedEx Cup playoffs to end a good year and Camilo Villegas finally broke through. They had special seasons but, as they've heard before, they weren't Tiger.

There's only one Tiger.

When you can beat the best in the world in the U.S. Open on one leg, you've answered all the questions.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

PGA Tour tries, again, for dramatic finish

Now that the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup playoffs have been reconfigured again, we know something for certain -- but that's been the problem all along.

Unlike the first two seasons of the FedEx Cup playoffs where the winner had been determined before the Tour Championship was played, the 2009 version of the playoffs guarantees no player, not even Tiger Woods, will be able to have locked up the big playoff check before the end of the Tour Championship, which will be played Sept. 24-27 in Atlanta.

Sounds like an improvement.

The FedEx Cup has fizzled in its first two years because Tiger and Vijay Singh have bleached the drama out of the four-event playoff by locking down the overall championship before it could build to a big finish. They've done it by playing spectacular golf but, in the process, they undercut the idea of a dramatic finish at East Lake before the PGA Tour fades beneath football's glaring light.

Under the new twist, it won't be possible to win the $10-million bonus before getting to East Lake. At least that's the idea.

The new format announced by the PGA Tour on Tuesday includes a handful of changes. Among the most significant:

-- The season-long points race won't end until after the third playoff event. Previously, it ended prior to the playoffs with players being seeded for the final four events. Next year, season points will accumulate through The Barclays, the Deutsche Bank Championship and the BMW Championship. After the BMW, only the top 30 will advance to the Tour Championship but only after the points have been reset.

-- Only the top 125 in points will advance to the playoffs, a reduction from the 144 who advanced the first two years. The top 100 will qualify for the second event and the top 70 will reach the BMW.

The FedEx Cup hasn't suffered because of bad golf. In fact, it has had some great shows, including the Singh-Sergio Garcia playoff this year and Camilo Villegas' double-shot finish this year.

The playoffs won't ever attract March Madness-like attention and they haven't come close to doing for golf what the Chase has done for NASCAR. But they keep working to make the system better. They seem to be on the right track.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Gaston CC plays persimmon for a day

Have you ever wondered how you'd play if you if had to go back to the equipment that was considered state of the art back in the 1960s and '70s?

What if you had to trade in your 460cc driver for a persimmon-headed model with a head that looked about as big as a tennis ball?

The members at Gaston Country Club got a taste of it Saturday.

As part of the club's 50th anniversary celebration, members played with persimmon drivers, old-school irons and balata golf balls.

They played golf with the stuff that made Jack and Arnie famous.

And it made them appreciate the advances in golf club technology.

"Absolutely," said Walter Gray.

The long drive contest was won by a 257-yard poke by a young player who can usually hit a 3-wood that far.

That's how things have changed, in case you've forgotten.

Just finding the equipment was a challenge. An e-mail campaign rustled up enough sets of vintage irons that every foursome had a set.

Gray played with a set of 1961 Wilson Staff Dynapower Fluid Feel irons with the original grips and shafts. They're available on e-bay for $20 if you're interested.

They bought 30 dozen Titleist balls with balata covers they found on the internet and no one was in a hurry to start playing those again any time soon.

"Those balls would fall out of the sky like a shot duck," Gray said.

It was, Gray said, fun for a day.

On Sunday, though, everyone went back to their modern equipment.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Erik Compton: A golf story with heart

The most emotionally compelling story in golf this year doesn't end with someone holding a trophy.

It ended, at least for the moment, last Saturday when 28-year-old Erik Compton (right, in a file photo) missed advancing to the finals of PGA Tour qualifying school by one shot.

It was probably the three-putt par from 20 feet on the 16th hole that did Compton in during the final round of the second-stage qualifier where he finished tied for 22nd, knowing only the top 20 finishers (and ties) would advance.

Still, the achievement far outweighs the disappointment.

That's because on May 20, Compton underwent a 14-hour heart transplant that saved his life.

It was his second transplant, his first coming when he was 12 years old, and six months later Compton was chasing a spot on the PGA Tour. His is a remarkable and inspiring story. A former All-American at Georgia, Compton was bitterly disappointed when he talked to reporters after his near miss finish in Florida last Saturday.

His life could have changed had he reached the finals of tour school. He admitted to thinking about health insurance and family matters and other things while he was playing and how could he not? The pressure, he said, was too much.

But Compton is alive and playing golf, looking forward to his wife giving birth to their first child in February.

The disappointment will fade. His life, thankfully, will go on.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wachovia Championship: An awkward leftover

It will be strange next spring to have the Wachovia Championship played at Quail Hollow when Wachovia, at least as Charlotte and the rest of the country has known it, no longer exists.

The word awkward comes to mind.

There's still so much smoke swirling around the Wachovia/Wells Fargo merger that it will take time for everything to be sorted out. Certainly, there are more important matters to be considered than the name of a golf tournament.

However, the announcement last week that the Wachovia name will remain raises questions.

Is it as simple as not having enough time to redo the branding of the event that led to the decision to keep the name as it has been through the first six years of the tournament?

Or does it suggest that perhaps Wells Fargo isn't sold on taking over the title sponsor role of the tournament?

I don't know.

It would seem an ideal way to become a part of the community where there are plenty of bruised feelings.

My guess is if Wells Fargo were to choose not to continue in Wachovia's role, the tournament could find another sponsor. There's another big bank in Charlotte that might be interested if it were asked. Again, I don't know but it would seem a logical question if sponsorship became an issue.

I do know a handful of naming options were considered before the decision was made to stick with the Wachovia Championship. And the decision to keep the name of an essentially defunct brand hasn't been popular with many associated with the event.

The tournament itself should be fine. The organization that runs it -- Champions For Education -- is committed to keeping it among the elite events on the PGA Tour. The top players will be here again next spring and in future years. The quality won't suffer.

Golf tournaments change names all the time. It's the nature of sports marketing these days.

This one seemed immune to that happening. Ultimately, though, it wasn't.

The Wachovia Championship name will live for one more year.

Beyond that, who knows?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Love's place in golf Hall probably secured

Davis Love III probably secured his place in the World Golf Hall of Fame Sunday when he won his 20th career PGA Tour event.

He’ll get my vote next year.

Love (right, with Mickey) was likely to get in anyway but winning a 20th time – at age 44 after a two-year winless stretch – reinforced the quality of his career and provided another milestone for anyone who wants to quibble about numbers.

When Love was in Kannapolis recently, he talked about his desire to end this year on a high in hopes it would springboard him into 2009. That’s what he’s done.

Now he gets to play the Mercedes Championship at Kapalua, where he’s typically played well, and he has a realistic chance of playing his way onto the Presidents Cup team next year.

Tiger pitches Asheville course he's designing

Tiger Woods, who has already spent a significant amount of time at High Carolina near Asheville, put the sales pitch on approximately 1,000 people who stopped by to see him Saturday at The Cliffs community where he is designing his first American golf course.

Woods, who said he still isn’t sure when he’ll return to competitive golf after knee surgery in June, unveiled the layout of the new course, which is scheduled to begin construction next year.

The course will play 7,500 yards from the back tees but Woods has designed six sets of tees to accommodate players of different skill levels. He has also made an effort to design the greens so that players will have the option of running shots into the putting surfaces rather than having forced carries.

Walking will be encouraged at High Carolina, where Woods has reportedly hiked the property extensively, even after his surgery. The course is expected to open in the fall of 2010.

'Two Gloves' closes strong

It was nice to see Tommy ‘Two Gloves’ Gainey finish second Sunday at Disney World after a disappointing season.

Gainey didn’t win enough money to keep his tour card for next year but he exempted himself into the final stage of qualifying school where he may be able to play his way back onto the big tour. If not, he’ll be able to play the Nationwide Tour.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

On Daly, Augusta, Quail Hollow ...

Catching up on a few things in the golf world:

- John Daly said this week that the fact he spent 24 hours in a Winston-Salem jail last week sobering up "wasn't that big of a deal."

Daly was found outside a Winston-Salem Hooters restaurant at 2 a.m., after the restaurant had closed. Daly admitted in a wire-service story that he was drunk, but he had planned to go back to his bus to sleep. He said when he was found, he was asleep with his eyes open and slow to wake up. That led to a 911 call.

With no place to go, Daly was taken to the Forsyth County facility where he had a day to sober up.

What a waste.

- Augusta National announced this week a few minor changes to the golf course. Nothing dramatic was adjusted with most of the work being done to some tees and rebuilding a few greens to put heating and cooling systems underneath.

The first tee was adjusted, adding a few yards to the front and taking a few yards off the back to alleviate some spectator congestion in the area. The hole will now measure 10 yards shorter at 445 yards.

Additional yardage was also added to the front of the seventh and 15th tees, which leads to the thought that perhaps the course will play a bit shorter and, hopefully, easier in April.

-- Still no verdict on the name of the Wachovia Championship for next year. There's a chance it will keep the Wachovia Championship name for 2009, but it seems more likely to become the Wells Fargo Championship. It would be nice if Quail Hollow were in the name, but that seems unlikely.

- It will be worth watching how many PGA Tour players point their schedule toward the European Tour to take advantage of the super big bucks available in the Road to Dubai sweepstakes that's been created. Phil Mickelson says he intends to become a member of the European Tour in the future but won't this year. The tour requires a player to tee it up 12 times but the four majors and three World Golf Championship events get you more than halfway there.

The $10-million prize that will be available in Dubai has turned the heads of several top players.

- I knew the so-called Fall Finish wouldn't get much attention, but it's been almost invisible. It ends this week, but to most people it never really started.

Honestly, how much golf have you watched since the Ryder Cup?

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wachovia Championship to get name change?

Catching up on a couple of things:

Despite all the problems swirling around Wachovia, Charlotte's PGA Tour event will return in 2009, though likely with a different name.

Organizers have received written assurance from corporate officials that the tournament will continue despite the problems of the title sponsor.

It's important to know that the tournament organization and the title sponsor are two different things. The tournament is owned and operated by Champions For Education. Wachovia pays a fee to put its name on the event.

If Wachovia goes away, as seems likely, I would expect Wells Fargo or Citigroup to put its name on the event. Citigroup just became presenting sponsor of the Presidents Cup through 2013 so it already has a presence on the PGA Tour.

Should the new company decide it doesn't want to remain title sponsor, the combination of Quail Hollow and the early May date would make finding a new sponsor easier than it might be for other events.

Tournaments change names regularly. The Wachovia Championship didn't seem like one that would change but it will. The good news is the tournament will continue here with all its special touches.

-- Charlotte resident Brendon de Jonge continues to lead the Nationwide Tour money list entering the last four events of the season.

De Jonge has already secured his spot on the PGA Tour next year but finishing as the tour's leading money winner would guarantee him a spot in The Players Championship and pretty well assure he's in any tournament he wants to play (aside from the majors) next year.

The Nationwide Tour plays the next three weeks then takes a week off before playing its tour championship the first week of November in McKinney, Tex.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Next Ryder Cup captain should be ...

Now it should be Jay Haas's turn as Ryder Cup captain.

The next matches are two years and an ocean away -- in Wales -- but already there's speculation about who the next American Ryder Cup captain will be.

There's a natural wave of emotion to bring Paul Azinger back but he looked surprised when asked about the possibility Sunday evening.

If Azinger will do it again, great. But I'm guessing he'll turn it over to someone else. American captains have traditionally been one-term guys, plus Zinger will be 50 in two years and the Champions Tour awaits.

So the PGA of America should forget its unwritten rule that captains should be major championship winners, preferably PGA Championship winners, and give Haas an honor he deserves.

He's still in touch with the PGA Tour players, has a great touch with people and has earned it. When you've received the Bobby Jones Award from the USGA, the game's highest honor, you're worthy of a Ryder Cup captaincy.

Haas played in several Ryder Cups and he'll be one of Fred Couples' assistants at the Presidents Cup next fall in San Francisco, so he'll be perfectly suited.

Couples won't get it because of his Presidents Cup captaincy. Corey Pavin has been mentioned as the next Ryder Cup captain, with Davis Love in four years, when he'll be 49.

Jay Haas should be the next American captain.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Boo's influence more than words

The word is compatibate.

And the American Ryder Cup team can thank Boo Weekley for it.

Leave it to Boo to throw out a word that really isn’t a word to describe what made this Ryder Cup team different from the last three that, apparently, didn’t compatibate.

Boo couldn’t exactly define what compatibate means when asked Sunday night but it means something like 16 ½ - 11 1/2 , which was the final score at Valhalla Golf Club.

Maybe the Ryder Cup comes down to nothing more than which team plays the best. There is a strong correlation between holing putts and winning trophies, no matter which trophy is at stake.

But U.S. captain Paul Azinger had a plan that first popped into his mind a few years back when he was watching a documentary. If he ever captained the Ryder Cup team, Azinger decided he would use the concepts he learned from the documentary, which suggested breaking big groups into smaller groups.

With 12 players on his team, Azinger broke them into four-man groups for practice rounds, team matches and, I’m guessing here, seating assignments at dinner.

It was easy to pick out the groups.

The alpha group included Phil Mickelson, Anthony Kim, Hunter Mahan and Justin Leonard. Funny, how they were the first four guys to go out in Sunday’s singles.

The second group included southerners Kenny Perry, J.B. Holmes Boo Weekley and Pennsylvania native Jim Furyk, who was an adopted southerner while in Louisville.
Those four, coincidentally, went out in the middle of the singles lineup.

The final group – Stewart Cink, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Chad Campbell – the mild-mannered, quiet guys went at the end.

“I had to sell it to the players and they were, to a man, behind this,” Azinger said.
See what happens when you compatibate?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Europeans rally in morning, trim U.S. lead

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Despite the decision by captain Nick Faldo to rest stars Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood, the European team closed the gap on the United States in Saturday's morning session at the Ryder Cup, cutting the American lead to 7-5 entering the afternoon four-ball play.

The Europeans got a huge boost from the team of Henrik Stenson and Oliver Wilson, who rallied from 4-down to upset Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim 2 & 1.

Europe also got help when Miguel Angel Jimenez and Graeme McDowell won the 18th hole to salvage a tie against Justin Leonard and Hunter Mahan.

Ian Poulter and Justin Rose easily defeated Stewart Cink and Chad Campbell 4 & 3 while the American's only win came in a 3 & 1 decision by Jim Furyk and Kenny Perry over Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson.

“We're digging deep,” McDowell said. “We're over here to win the trophy.”

Faldo's strategy to sit Garcia and Westwood, saying he wanted fresh legs in the morning matches, could have backfired with the Europeans starting the day three points behind.

When Mickelson and Kim began misfiring, however, the momentum shifted. The Americans lost six of the last 11 holes in the match, often creating their own problems with wayward tee shots.

“For Stenson to turn that match around with Ollie Wilson, that is just fantastic,” Faldo said. “I said, ‘Just chip away, one at a time, one at time' and he really looked after Ollie Wilson. Just unbelievable.”

- Ron Green Jr.

Friday, September 19, 2008

MJ shows up as Ryder Cup spectator

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – In his blue jeans, white T-shirt and white Ryder Cup cap, Michael Jordan spent Friday just the way he wanted – watching the Ryder Cup matches at Vahalla Golf Club.

Jordan, who has attended every Ryder Cup since the 1997 in Valderrama, Spain, intends to spend the weekend at Valhalla before returning to Charlotte in advance of the Charlotte Bobcats’ preseason training camp.

“It’s my favorite event (outside of basketball),” Jordan said while watching Phil Mickelson and Anthony Kim play Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson Friday morning.

“I love the competition. There’s no money. It’s all about pride. Every shot makes somebody happy or sad.”

Jordan said he’s been in Louisville since Tuesday, playing golf with friends before the matches began Friday.

Next fall, when the top American professionals face the International team in the Presidents Cup matches in San Francisco, Jordan is expected to be an assistant on captain Fred Couples’ staff.

“I heard I have no choice,” Jordan said. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Mickelson gets wish, is paired with Kim

When Anthony Kim qualified for the U.S. Ryder Cup team earlier this year, Phil Mickelson quickly called captain Paul Azinger and asked to be paired with the Wachovia Championship winner.

“I said, ‘Way to go out on a limb, Phil. You want Anthony Kim, really?” Azinger cracked after announcing the pairings Wednesday afternoon.

Mickelson got his wish, pairing with Kim to face the powerful European duo of Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson in the first match at 8:05 a.m. Friday.

If there was a surprise to the pairings, it was that Azinger elected not to pair Kentuckians Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes in the first match, as he hinted he might.

Instead, Perry will play with Jim Furyk in the final morning match against Europe’s top duo, Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood.

“It just made sense to me that it would be a really solid pairing,” Azinger said.

Azinger added that he will play all 12 players on Friday, meaning Boo Weekley, Steve Stricker, Ben Curtis and Holmes will play in the afternoon best-ball matches.

Faldo wouldn’t make the same commitment about playing all of his players on Friday.

“I’m not going to make any promises or assumptions or anything,” Faldo said.

The United States has not led after the morning session since 1991 and has not led at the end of a day since its famous winning comeback on Sunday in 1999.


- 8:05 a.m.: Phil Mickelson-Anthony Kim vs. Padraig Harrington-Robert Karlsson.

- 8:20: Justin Leonard-Hunter Mahan vs. Henrik Stenson-Paul Casey

- 8:35: Stewart Cink-Chad Campbell vs. Justin Rose-Ian Poulter

- 8:50: Kenny Perry-Jim Furyk vs. Lee Westwood-Sergio Garcia

Missing Tiger, hidden dagger?

So how much does it matter that Tiger Woods isn't part of the United States Ryder Cup team this year?

Think about that for a second. He's the best player in the world by far, he's an intimidating presence and he's a good teammate, even if he isn't the rah-rah type in the room.

Of course, it makes a difference that Tiger isn't here at Valhalla.

Are you kidding?

I know all about his 10-13-2 record in these matches. That's not great.

But, no offense to Chad Campbell or Ben Curtis, but wouldn't you rather send Tiger out than one of them?

Captain Paul Azinger has Tiger on speed dial this week but not in his lineup. I doubt Azinger will ring Tiger to chat about the events but you never know.

Without Tiger, the Americans have another motivational tool at their disposal, as if they didn't have enough already given the recent history of this event. Imagine the satisfaction of taking down the favored Europeans without Tiger.

It's tougher without Tiger. But not impossible.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

State secrets revealed at Ryder Cup?

During the Wednesday Ryder Cup practice session at Valhalla Golf Club, a television camera zeroed in on a sheet of paper held by European captain Nick Faldo as he talked with his team.

The image showed Sergio Garcia and Lee Westwood paired together as were Padraig Harrington and Robert Karlsson while the other names were listed in no particular order.

It, of course, set of a frenzy of speculation that Faldo's Friday morning pairings, at least the first two, had been discovered. Alert the CIA. Mobillize the Secret Service. Call captain Azinger.

Faldo tried to tap-dance around the issue during his daily press briefing, saying first it was a sandwich list ("who wants tuna, who wants beef, who wants ham") then later said they are pairings for Thursday's final practice session.

Part of the fun in the run-up to the matches is how the captains will pair their players and how the pairings will fall. Unlike the Presidents Cup, where captains are privy to each other's selections, the Ryder Cup pairings are treated like state secrets.

It would be a bigger shock of Faldo doesn't pair Garcia and Westwood together Friday morning than if he does. It's what almost everyone else would do.

Captains like to play coy and may do that with their teams in order to minimize the disappointment to the four players who must sit out during each session prior to singles.

Azinger has been elusive when asked specifics but has made it clear he wants to put Kenny Perry and J.B. Holmes together and, if he does, he'll put them out first Friday to start the fun.

He may put Boo Weekley with Jim Furyk and Anthony Kim with Phil Mickelson.

The plan, Azinger said, is for all 12 Americans to play Friday. Faldo said he intends to play all of his players on the first day too. But, Faldo added, the matches start and things change.

That's part of the fun.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Five questions for Ryder Cup week

Five questions as Ryder Cup week begins:

1. Will the Americans finally win?

That's a definite maybe.

Considering there's no Tiger Woods -- even if he is 10-13-1 in the Ryder Cup -- maybe is better than no.

The edge going in belongs to the Europeans if for no other reason than they have Sergio on their side. He's playing great and he plays the Ryder Cup like he's possessed.

But I'm not as down on this American team as some may be. I like what Anthony Kim brings and Jim Furyk is always solid. If Phil MIckelson plays well and guys like Hunter Mahan and Kenny Perry are on, this might be the end of the streak.

2. How much do the captains matter?

Not as much as everyone believes.

Sure, they're high profile, particularly in this case with Paul Azinger and Nick Faldo the perfect foils for each other. And they get a ton of attention in the build-up because they're the ones waiting for their teams to come together.

Azinger and Faldo are both dominating personalities. It's been amusing to watch the mini-storm about the fact Faldo has just once assistant captain -- the wise Jose Maria Olazabal -- while Azinger has Olin Browne, Dave Stockton and Raymond Floyd.

Ultimately, both captains will make their own decisions.

And the winning captain, strangely enough, is the guy whose players tend to make the most putts during the week.

3. Aside from Sergio, do the Europeans have a secret weapon?

He's not a secret but beware Robert Karlsson. He won Sunday on the European Tour and has three top-10 finishes in major championships this year.

Karlsson has a great short game and a cool demeanor. Watch for him to be a big factor this weekend.

4. Who are some likely pairings?

Well, Faldo killed the automatic Lee Westwood-Darren Clarke pairing when he selected Ian Poulter instead of Clarke. It's possible Garcia and Westwood may go out together given their past success together in team play.

Padraig Harrington can play with anyone and Faldo may send him out early with a rookie, maybe Soren Hanson or Oliver Wilson, to help them get comfortable.

As for the Americans, Azinger may go with Kentucky boys J.B. Holmes and Kenny Perry together one time, banking on some bluegrass magic. The fact is most spectators at the Ryder Cup are from around the country, not around Louisville, so that emotional edge may be minimal.

5. Who will be the American team leader?

That's a question Azinger is probably asking.

On paper, it should be Mickelson and he'll try, though it may not be a role that fits him well. Furyk is a tough guy and he'll be a steady presence as will the underrated Stewart Cink.
As for a fiery guy, Anthony Kim is just a rookie but he may feel right at home.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Golfing greats gather at Rock Barn

Walking into the banquet room inside the clubhouse at Rock Barn Wednesday morning was, as someone there said, like walking into a museum.

Outside, the pro-am for the Champions Tour event was being played with today's stars on a tour that's built around yesterday.

But in the banquet room, scattered around circular tables with bacon, eggs and coffee in front of them, were the so-called Great Grand Champions of the PGA Tour.

There was Billy Casper, the most underrated great player of all time. There was Miller Barber, Don January, Dow Finsterwald and Gene Littler.

There was Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford, who didn't win as many events as some players in the room but had everlasting impacts on the sport. There was Walter Morgan and Jim Ferree and others.

Bob Goalby told stories as he introduced each player to the amateurs who were playing in the nine-hole pro-am with the legends. He made jokes about Doug Sanders missing a short putt to lose the British Open and found other targets, all in good and gentle fun.

A few times each year, these old guys get together to play a little golf, tell some stories and bask in the glow of who they are and what they did.

Golf is bigger, flashier and different than it was when they were among the best in the world.

But like it does for all of us who play, it remains the tie that binds.

Monday, September 08, 2008

In any language, LPGA plan was a disaster

After getting blowtorched in the court of public opinion, the LPGA has wisely decided to rescind its plan to penalize players who are not coversant in English by 2009.

The question is whether the tour, which has traveled a rocky road under commissioner Carolyn Bivens, has done serious damage to itself or, as the marketers like to say, its brand.

It certainly didn't help itself.

In the days and weeks after the policy was revealed -- it had not officially gone into effect -- the tour was ripped by the media, some players and, more to the point, some sponsors and advocacy groups.

State Farm Insurance, a long-time supporter of the tour, urged adminstrators to reconsider the idea.

Shortly before Bivens announced the policy would be revised to eliminate the threat of suspensions, there were reports that the Asian Pacific American Legal Center planned to publicly demand the policy be rescinded.

It all swirled into a public relations disaster for a tour that can't afford one.

There is no question the tour has had a problem with so many of its Asian players -- there are approximately 45 Koreans on tour -- not speaking English. It has made pro-ams, where much of the money comes from, awkward, media room sessions difficult and trophy presentations strained.

However, the threat of suspension was too much.

It is not wrong for the tour to encourage its foreign players to learn to speak English and it has had a program in place to help them for three years.

But the heavy-handed policy was a mistake.

Intent on dealing with one problem, the LPGA created an even bigger one that may leave a stain.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Singh: Not bad for an old guy

Recently, NBC commentator Johnny Miller said Vijay Singh is playing the best golf any 40-something has played since Ben Hogan was hitting soft fades in his heyday.

He's probably right.

Singh has been on a remarkable roll, winning three of his last four starts, including the first two FedEx Cup playoff events to sap the drama out of the season-ending money grab.

In the process, Singh has reminded us of what an exceptional player he is, not just now but over the span of his career. He's not in the best of the best class -- that's Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Bobby Jones and a few others -- but Singh is just outside it.

And imagine if he could putt.

Singh is, at times, a terrific putter. You don't win 34 PGA Tour events including three majors by slapping it around on the greens. It's no great revelation, however, to point to Singh's perpetual love-hate relationship with his putter as his most glaring deficiency.

His reputation has been built on his legendary practice regimen and his devotion to the gym, where he spends more time than some basketball coaches. Sheer work and will account for a sizeable portion of Singh's success but he also possesses rare talent.

It has been tough for the public to warm up to Singh over the years, in part because he's been so guarded with the media. There's obviously a funny, playful side to Singh -- there are too many stories and compliments to dispute it -- but it's been hard for the world to see.

I don't think Singh cares much about how popular he is, though he's earned enormous respect. In the process, Singh seems to have softened and why not?

At 45, he's still close to the prime of his career.

And he keeps reminding us of it every week.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Azinger throws a zinger into Ryder Cup choices

As U.S. Ryder Cup captain Paul Azinger announced his four at-large choices for his Ryder Cup team Tuesday morning, everything was going fairly close to expectations.

Steve Stricker was a lock. He's too good to leave off and he's playing well, something in seriously short supply among the American side.

Hunter Mahan made sense. He made some silly remarks last month about how guys didn't want to play in the Ryder Cup and, discovering he sounded like a jerk, Mahan recanted and deserved the spot Azinger offered.

J.B. Holmes wasn't a surprise. Azinger has seemed infatuated by Holmes' enormous power off the tee and his familiarity with Valhalla, where the matches will be played in two weeks. It didn’t hurt that Holmes is a Kentucky native, though the fact remains that the vast majority of fans on site in Louisville will be from someplace outside Kentucky state lines. This isn't going to be like Rupp Arena, in other words.

The shocker came when Azinger named Chad Campbell as his final choice.

Chad Campbell?

What about Rocco Mediate? Or Scott Verplank? Or D.J. Trahan? Or any of a half-dozen other guys?

No, Azinger chose Chad Campbell, who finished tied for seventh Monday in the Deutsche Bank Championship, thereby earning a spot based on Azinger's pre-determined criteria -- whomever is playing well at the moment.

Azinger was, in effect, trapped by his determination to go with the hottest American players because there really aren't any.

He thought about rookie Kevin Streelman but that would have been an ultra long-shot pick.

He thought long and hard about Mediate, whose personality would have been worth at least half a point to the American side.

He thought about a bunch of guys and settled on Campbell, who seemed almost as surprised as everyone else that he was picked.

Campbell had a nice run in July when he finished tied for seventh at the John Deere and third at Milwaukee but those aren't high-profile events. He did have a tie for 14th at the World Golf Championship event at Firestone but, until his top-10 in Boston, he had a missed cut and a tie for 65th. Not exactly smokin.'

The truth is Azinger didn't have many easy choices.

Across the pond, European captain Nick Faldo was already getting beaten up for picking Ian Poulter over Darren Clarke, a move that has the tabloids in a frenzy.

By his own admission, Azinger is a control freak and likes to be a dominant personality. He restructured the team selection process to give himself more say-so in his roster in part because he wanted it that way and, in part, because nothing else has worked for the Americans since 1999.

He solicited advice from many people, crunched some numbers and, finally, made his own choices.

There is a tendency to give the captains too much credit for what goes right and what goes wrong in the Ryder Cup. They make the pairings, pick the outfits then sit back and watch.

Azinger will bring the fire to the American team. In Faldo's case, there is reason to wonder if the players can warm up to a coach who was so coldly dismissive of others for so many years. Is this the year when the Europeans' famous cameraderie finally fails them?

Questions, questions.

And it's still more than two weeks before we get any answers.

Monday, August 25, 2008

U.S. Amateur champ may be golf's next big star

There’s a tendency to quickly label someone the next big thing after they’ve won a significant event and it’s the same with 18-year-old Danny Lee after his dominating performance in winning the U.S. Amateur at Pinehurst.

Is he the next big thing?

It’s too early to say for sure, but he definitely bears watching.

Lee has plenty of power but, more than that, he has an exceptional short game and a putting stroke he believes in. Lee was able to continually hit shots close at Pinehurst No. 2 by virtue of his high ball flight and, by his own admission, it was one of those weeks when it felt like every putt was going in.

He made believers of a lot of people, and it will be interesting to see if he sticks to his plan to remain an amateur through next summer to play in the major championships he’s now exempted into. Potential agents were walking around No. 2 watching Lee and you know equipment companies are lining up to sign him.

He may be that good.

-The FedEx Cup playoffs may not have Tiger Woods, but they got off to a good start at the Barclays with Vijay Singh beating Sergio Garcia and Kevin Sutherland in a playoff.

Not only did the win add another gold brick to Singh’s Hall of Fame career, the finish gave the FedEx Cup standings the kind of dramatic reshuffling they need. Singh jumped to the top and Sergio is second and Kenny Perry, who had been No. 1, tumbled to seventh.

Ideally, a handful of players will still have a legitimate chance of winning the whole thing when the Tour Championship arrives next month.

- If you’re European Ryder Cup captain Nick Faldo, don’t you pick Paul Casey and Darren Clarke as your two at-large choices now?

Casey had a solid week at Greensboro and followed it up with a stronger week at the Barclays while Clarke has resurrected his game, winning twice recently. He’s been at the heart of the Europeans’ success and it seems natural to put him and his mate Lee Westwood together again.

- Former Charlotte 49ers golfer Trevor Murphy picked up a win on the Gateway Tour over the weekend, his first since turning pro. Murphy, who shot 60 during one round of the event, is pointing toward tour qualifying school in the fall.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Golf doesn't need to be an Olympic sport

Golf’s power brokers – the ones not named Tiger, anyway – have gone to the Olympics in Beijing as part of a lobbying effort to convince the International Olympic Committee to put golf back in the Games.

Golf used to be part of the Olympics, long, long ago, but lost its spot to the more traditional Olympic sports like beach volleyball.

I don’t much care one way or the other about golf in the Olympics.
Golf already has more important events than the Olympics – they’re called major championships. And the Ryder Cup.

Playing for Olympic gold isn’t going to be bigger than those. It would be important to the players who choose to participate – Phil Mickelson has endorsed the idea but I don’t see Tiger ever showing up in the Olympics – but the golf world won’t revolve around the Olympics.

Quick, who won the men’s tennis gold medal in the last Olympics?
Nicolas Massu from Chile.

Didn’t exactly make him a household name did it?
Golf could be helped by the Olympics because it would, theoretically, expose the game to more people. Participation has hit a flat spot and officials want to spike the number of new players and, perhaps, the Olympics would help.
Would it?

I don’t see the world rushing out to take up badminton or archery.
But golf needs to grow and if people smarter than me (no wisecracks, please) think being part of the Olympics will help, then fine.

However, I grew up thinking the Olympics were about swimming and diving and running and weightlifting and all those other sports that get ignored except during the Olympics.
Tee times were for VIPs in town for the Games.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Count on Sergio Garcia winning a major soon

Padraig Harrington got Sergio Garcia again Sunday at the PGA Championship, demonstrating in wide-eyed wonder the career-defining line between being a major champion and not.

Harrington has supplanted Phil Mickelson as the world’s second-best player, having now collected three of the past six major championships. I know Tiger Woods didn’t play in two of those, but that Harrington still went out and won majors the way the great ones always have – by hitting gutsy shots and holing the gritty putts when they matter most.

Which brings me back to Sergio, who is now 0-for-41 in majors. It looked as if the PGA would be his breakthrough victory, but it wasn’t and there are a handful of places to point if you’re looking to lay blame.

You can’t hit the ball in the water at the 16th hole when you’re playing for the championship. Do what Ben Curtis did – play to the left corner of the green, make par and go on.

Sergio made a mistake trying to be aggressive. It’s not the first time. The secret to winning majors is often not in forcing the action but in letting the tournament come to you. Just ask Jack Nicklaus.

Then there was the 5-foot birdie putt that Sergio missed on the 17th hole, giving Harrington a one-stroke cushion going to the too-hard 18th. That stroke proved to be the difference (I don’t count the miss at 18 because the tournament had already been lost at that point).

Sergio insists he hit the putt he wanted and it just didn’t break like he expected. Fair enough. It happens.

Harrington, meanwhile, was holing every putt he looked at. That’s where he is right now in his career. He expects them to go in. Maybe there’s a whisker of doubt in Sergio’s mind and why not.

But I think Sergio will win majors, not one, but more than one. I think he’s getting more comfortable in the chase and he’s not going to away. Had the putt fallen at Carnoustie last year and again Sunday on the 17th hole, Sergio might be getting the praise Harrington is now getting.

Sergio handled this loss better than the one at Carnoustie, a step in the right direction. One day soon he’s going to be the guy holding the major championship trophy.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Next 3 weeks will steer U.S. Ryder Cup captain

By Sunday evening, eight of the 12 spots will be set for captain Paul Azinger's U.S. Ryder Cup team in September in Kentucky.

Though this week's PGA Championship could alter one or two of the eight automatics, we know Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk, Anthony Kim, Kenny Perry and Justin Leonard will be at Valhalla, among others.

The larger question is who Azinger will choose with his four captain's picks, which he doesn't have to make until Sept. 2. He will keep the points tally going and use it as an element of his choices but, more than anything, he'll be paying special attention to who's playing well over the next few weeks.

Captain Azinger made it clear earlier this week that he'll pay attention to who plays at the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro next week and how they play. Maybe that's why Zach Johnson, one of many guys bunched just outside the top eight, added his name to Greensboro's commitment list this week, as did Paul Casey, who's trying to play his way onto Nick Faldo's European team.

Azinger must sort through a lot of guys who are good players but haven't been particularly spectacular recently. In fact, the 17 players ranked eighth through 24th entering the PGA Championship have won a combined three events this year.

Rather than find the hot players, Azinger may have to take guys who are warm. Right now, D.J. Trahan, Hunter Mahan, Sean O'Hair, Rocco Mediate, J.B. Holmes and Johnson are among the guys closest to the cut line in points.

Somehow, I don't think Faldo is worried. He has his own problems because he has more good players than he can use. Right now, Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Colin Montgomery and Casey, are among the players who haven't qualified -- and Faldo has just two at-large spots to award.

This weekend will tell a lot. But the most intriguing part of the story may be told over the next three weeks.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

New partner helps Tarheel Tour expand

For seven years, the Tarheel Tour has been an increasingly popular and successful mini-tour based in Charlotte but with tournaments played throughout the Southeast.

With new partnership with egolf, which runs golf practice centers, an aggressive Internet site and other golf-related enterprises, the tour will be able to continue its expansion while increasing the purses available to players.

The plan for 2009 includes 20 tournaments with an average purse of $200,000 per event.

Though the schedule has not been finalized, it's expected to reach from Georgia to New Jersey, with three or four events in the greater Charlotte area.

Professional mini-tours come and go, but the egolf Tarheel Tour has further entrenched itself as a solid tour. It's where guys such as Jason Bohn, Steve Marino, John Mallinger, Tommy ‘Two Gloves' Gainey and Kyle Thompson, among others, have played.

“We feel like our partnership can only be good,” tour president David Siegel said. “It gets us closer to our goal of being the third-best tour behind the PGA Tour and the Nationwide Tour and eventually getting official recognition from them.”

Siegel said the Tarheel Tour's success, helped by a lineup of quality courses, has convinced more aspiring young professionals to move to the Charlotte area. The tour will remain based in Charlotte with PGA Tour media official Stewart Moore returning to become the tour's chief operating officer.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Thoughts as the PGA Tour Championship nears

Five thoughts on the golf scene as the year’s final major championship arrives:

1. Watching Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson trying to lose the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational Sunday afternoon was perversely entertaining.

Singh looked like he was holding a rattlesnake every time he stood over a 6-footer and Mickelson managed to toss away a win with bogeys on three of the last four holes.

Mickelson’s critical error came at the 17th, where he tried to force a driver into the fairway rather than take a more conservative approach. It backfired, naturally, with a tee shot into a tough lie in a fairway bunker leading to a bogey.

Singh, meanwhile, was just happy to see his final putt fall in, even if it seemed to go in by accident.

I think it was David Feherty who said the level of play seemed to bounce between world championship and club championship level. Right again.

2. The good thing about the World Golf Championship events is they bring the best players together, something that happens too infrequently.
But the WGC events haven’t seemed to separate themselves in the eyes of the public. They have better players than most other events, but that’s about the only difference. The buzz factor, especially with no Tiger Woods, isn’t very high.

3. When the most memorable thing about the U.S. Senior Open is a visit by a bear that ambled across the golf course on Friday, you’ve had a dull tournament.
Nothing against champion Eduardo Romero, but there was no drama over the weekend. The Senior Open is usually the most compelling event of the year on the Champions Tour, but this one never seemed to catch fire.

4. Michelle Wie missed another cut in a second-tier PGA Tour event. Exactly how did that help her career?

5. Charlotte 49ers golfer Corey Nagy won the Carolina Amateur event played at NorthStone Country Club over the weekend, and it did two things for him – reinforced the notion that he might be the best player Charlotte has produced in many years, and it got him a spot in the pre-qualifier for the Wydham Championship in Greensboro. Nagy must advance from the pre-qualifier into a Monday qualifier and advance from there to get into the PGA Tour event in two weeks.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Charlotte's Wagner hoping for big finish

Johnson Wagner spent the past two weeks hanging around home in Charlotte, playing some golf, relaxing and getting ready for what he hopes will be a big finish to his 2008 PGA Tour season.

Wagner, who won the Shell Houston Open in April, opened the World Golf Championship-Brdgestone Invitational Thursday in Akron, Ohio, with a solid even-par 70, putting himself in position to be a factor at Firestone when the weekend arrives.

The victory in Houston in April not only got Wagner into the Masters at the last minute, it affirmed his belief that he belonged on the tour. His record since Houston, however, has been spotty.

He made four straight cuts in one stretch but his best finish has been a tie for 27th in the EDS Byron Nelson Championship.

Wagner ranks 45th in FedEx Cup points and went to Firestone intent on improving his standing as the four-tournament playoff stretch approaches in three weeks.

"I'm starting to play better on tougher courses and in bigger events and I feel like I can play well in this stretch," Wagner said. "I want to make the top 30 in the FedEx standings so I can play in the Tour Championship and winning another tournament would certainly take care of that."

After the Bridgestone this week, Wagner will play the PGA Championship next week, bypass the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro then being the FedEx Cup playoffs at the Barclays in mid-August. Ideally, he would play his way into a spot at the Tour Championship Sept. 25-28 at East Lake in Atlanta.

As for his breakthrough victory at Houston, Wagner said he needs to focus on what's next rather than on what he's already done.

"I need to quit thinking about (the win)," Wagner said. "I need to focus on the good things I did to get in that position and start doing them again."

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Again, Wie elects to be sideshow at men's event

The Women's British Open, pardon me, the Ricoh Women's British Open, is being played this week at Sunningdale in England and Michelle Wie is playing instead in the PGA Tour's Legends Reno-Tahoe Open.

Need I ask, what's wrong with this picture?

The question I've always had about Michelle Wie is whether she's more interested in being a great golfer or a great star.

The fact she's in Nevada rather than England this week raises that question again.

Sure, she would have had to qualify to play in the British Open, but if you're serious about being great you try to play in the biggest events. Unless you're Kenny Perry - but he's 47 and deep enough in his career to skip the British Open even if it's a decision he will likely regret down the road.

Wie was a star. Now she's a curiosity, which means she's moved in the wrong direction.

Playing in another men's event - a second-tier PGA Tour event that includes none of the top 50 players in the world - seems the wrong thing for her to do right now. Maybe she will make the cut - she's shown signs of getting her game back - but what would that prove?

I would love to see Michelle Wie become everything we've projected her to be. She could further transform women's professional golf if she could become a regular winner.

She makes you watch.

If it can all come together for her, Wie could have an enormous impact on the game.

But bypassing a major to be a sideshow in Reno-Tahoe isn't the best way to do it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Play golf, live longer

What if I told you that playing golf can add five years to your life?

I know, there are times when you think your head will explode after you've chunked another wedge into a bunker or hit a slice deep enough into the woods that the CIA couldn't find it. You think the game will kill you, not keep you alive.

But if the findings of the Karolinska Instituted in Sweden are accurate -- and its reputation apparently makes it the Pro V1 of its field -- then playing golf may be better for you than a glass of red wine a day or passing on the Thickburger.

According to the study, which was published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science, golfers are 40 percent less likely to die at a given age than people who don't play golf. Don't ask me to explain the formula but that means the game adds about five years to your life, unless you go about it the way John Daly does.

The study evaluated 300,000 golfers and took a variety of factors into consideration. The study looked at blue-collar and white-collar golfers to negate the idea that wealthier people tend to play golf, and consequently, might have access to better health care.

I'm just guessing here but playing football probably doesn't add five years to your life. Bowling probably doesn't either.

But golf apparently keeps you alive longer, which is a good thing unless you have the shanks.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Namesake was golf giant

Many of the best young players in the Charlotte area are at Cedarwood Country Club this week playing in the Dick Tiddy Metro Junior championship.

Chances are the winners won’t be familiar with the man for whom the tournament is named but he was one of the giants of golf in this area.

Tiddy was a Charlotte native, who played college golf at Wake Forest with a fellow named Arnold Palmer, beginning a friendship that started in the 1940s and lasted until Tiddy passed away four years ago at age 74.

Tiddy was good enough to play the PGA Tour for a couple of years but he was a Hall of Famer as a teaching pro and all-around golf man. He knew how to make club members happy, cure swing flaws and brighten the days of everyone who came in contact with him.

He was the head pro at Charlotte Country Club before taking the same position at Cedarwood when it opened in the mid-1960s. But when Palmer called and asked Tiddy to run his beloved Bay Hill Club in Orlando in 1971, Tiddy moved south but kept his Charlotte connections alive.

For more than three decades, Tiddy taught golf at Bay Hill despite a series of health problems that gradually took away his ability to walk. Friends from Charlotte would routinely visit Bay Hill and Tiddy would return home where members of his family remain.

There was nothing he liked better than helping someone with their golf swing, whether it was a kid just learning the game or one of the many touring pros he put his trained eyes on. He made the game seem easy and I can remember him watching me hit high soft draws during a lesson and happily calling them ‘Carolina cut shots.’

Dick Tiddy was a big man, standing about 6-5 and weighing more than 250 pounds but he was larger than that in the ways that matter most.

He touched thousands of golf games and just as many lives, improving both.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Filling Tiger's void? Harrington, but not Phil

In the aftermath of the Open Championship, the question isn't whether Padraig Harrington is the game's second-best player regardless of what the official world rankings say -- he is -- nor is it whether this major championship Sunday performance is like so many others in Greg Norman's star-crossed career -- no, this was different.

The question is, what happened to all the guys who were supposed to pounce on major championships while Tiger Woods is on the mend?

This was going to be Sergio's moment, but he shot 44 coming in on Sunday and was never a serious factor.

Ernie Els?

His first-round 80 said more than his three good rounds from there.

Phil Mickelson?

Paralysis by analysis. Just play golf. Enough with the five wedges and rocket-science approach to trajectory and all that overthinking. Just go play golf, especially over there where feel is the most important thing.


He's getting old.

Adam Scott?

Where'd he go?

At least 23-year old Anthony Kim played like a guy capable of winning, at least until he put a putter in his hands. Then the hole started playing hide and seek.

Harrington, meanwhile, enhanced his place in the game with his gritty play. He's as tough as they come and his back nine Sunday was a thing of beauty. Looking for a winner at the PGA next month? I'll start with Harrington.

As for Norman, he didn't win but he had a chance with nine holes remaining and, in the process, he reminded us again of how captivating a personality he can be.

Norman was the game's dominant personality for a decade and having him back out front again reminded us of how flamboyant he was.

Had he somehow kept it together and won at Birkdale, it would have been one of the great stories ever, on a level with Jack Nicklaus' win in the 1986 Masters.

It didn't happen, unfortunately, but it's different when you're a 53-year old businessman who plays golf when the mood hits. This wasn't Norman in his prime with all the arrows in his heart. This was an aging giant back for one more moment and he played with much of the world pulling for him.

Norman didn't play as well on Sunday as he had in the three previous rounds and there was some criticism of him hitting his driver as often as he did. But Norman is considered by many to be the best driver -- combining length and accuracy -- ever. To play away from his strength on Sunday would have been counterintuitive.

Maybe he would have won if he'd hit more 3-woods and hybrids off the tee. Maybe not.

The way Harrington played at the end, it was his tournament to win.

The question is where everyone else went.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Will it be British Open champion*?

Will it ultimately matter on Sunday when someone is handed the Claret Jug that Tiger Woods was not at Royal Birkdale this week?

Of course, it will.

How can it not?

It's a major championship, of which Tiger has won 14 of the past 46, and in the prime of his career, he's not there. Having proved last month that he can, in fact, beat the rest of the world on one good leg, Woods' absence changes the structure of professional golf.

Players have made the point this week that the Open Championship is bigger than one player and they're right. They've been chasing golf balls around the hay over there since 1860 and having your name etched on the trophy is an extraordinary achievement.

But when you hear Ernie Els talking about how ominous Tiger's presence is when he's in the field and you remember Sergio thanking Tiger for missing The Players Championship he won in May -- was Sergio joking? -- it's obvious who and what are missing.

Evidently the game itself spooks Els these days, based on his body language while shooting an 80 Thursday.

This is a moment -- as the PGA Championship next month will be -- when the Adam Scotts and Sergios need to take advantage of the opportunity. Tiger will be back next year and the status quo will return with him.

Someone will be proclaimed champion golfer of the year Sunday afternoon at Birkdale and read his name on the Claret Jug.

It won't have an asterik beside it.

At least not one that's visible.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

18 holes with Clemson's Bowden

In another two weeks, Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden will be immersed in the start of preseason practice, dealing with all the things a head coach of a likely top-10 team has to deal with.

On Tuesday, however, Bowden spent the day playing golf at The Reserve at Lake Keowee, hosting an annual outing for media and athletic staff members before the crush of the season arrives.

I was paired with Bowden, sharing a cart with him, and though our golf didn't exactly sparkle, spending four hours with him away from football was a treat.

He recently returned from the annual family vacation with his father and brothers and kids and grandkids to Panama City, Fla., where the focus may be more on golf than football.

"My dad plays 36 holes a day every day and he plays in the heat of the day," Tommy said. "If you're just going to play 18 holes, you'd better take your own car because he's not leaving."

Bowden is a solid -- and quick -- golfer who hit several good shots during the day, but he doesn't play as regularly as some coaches. By his own admission, he's no Steve Spurrier on the golf course, but he has fun.

At The Reserve, a beautiful Jack Nicklaus-designed course nestled among the hills alongside Lake Keowee, Bowden would stop the cart on bridges to look into creeks for snakes -- we saw one black snake sunning itself -- and he looked longingly at the lake when the course bumped against it.

He lives on Lake Hartwell near Clemson and, like the rest of us, stared at how far down the water is, leaving boats stranded on the shore in places. Bowden also talked about how much he enjoys taking his boat on the water when he has a few hours.

As for the golf, Bowden joked that he needed to stack his team with good players one year so he could win the tournament he hosts.

He didn't do it this year. Maybe next year.

-- Photo (above right) taken of Clemson football coach Tommy Bowden before participating in his annual media golf outing in Sunset, S.C., on Tuesday, July 15. (Anderson Independent-Mail, Mark Crammer)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Ballantyne facelift moving along

The golf course at Ballantyne Resort may be closed for the summer but there’s a lot going on anyway.

The layout, among the busiest and most popular in the Charlotte area, is getting a significant makeover that began June 16.

The practice range area will be dramatically different when the course reopens – Sept. 1 is the target date. The range has been reshaped and a new pavilion has been built nearby, creating a place for golfers in outings to gather.

The pavilion will sit where the practice green was and will have new putting greens on each side.

The staging area is also getting a facelift to help with the many outings the course hosts each year.

The most significant change to the course will be seen at the par-4 second hole. What used to be a short, quirky dogleg right with a tiny green has been transformed into a straighter par-4, essentially a new hole that will be a nice improvement.

The long, severe green at the par-4 eighth hole is also being reshaped to make it more player-friendly.

Additionally, the bunkers are being dredged and will have premium sand installed. Creek work and landscaping is also under way.

“It’s getting a really good facelift,” said Dana Rader, who operates her golf school at the resort. “The whole concept is geared toward a wow factor.”

Speaking of Rader, she’s also been down for a time this summer after having knee replacement surgery last month. She hopes to be back at home on a limited basis next week.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Kim develops attitude to match game

When Anthony Kim won the Wachovia Championship here in May, it was deemed to be the first of many victories for the 23-year old.

No. 2 came Sunday at Tiger Woods' AT&T National at Congressional in Washington, adding to the growing sense that Kim may be the game's next big star.

Kim has an exceptional swing that appears sturdy enough to hold up under pressure. It's efficient and powerful, an ideal combination.

The difference, as Kim admitted at Quail Hollow in May, is in his attitude. He's still a hot-shot young player, but he has begun to grow into his talent. He has begun to understand how to play and, consequently, how to win.

That isn't limited to hitting good shots and holing putts. Kim has offered several anecdotes about the growing pains he's experienced in his short time on the PGA Tour and offered a telling story in the media room after his win in Washington on Sunday.

He was playing in the BMW Championship last fall during the FedEx Cup playoffs. Kim had been out late the night before and showed up 15 minutes before his tee time, just long enough to grab a breakfast burrito and slap a couple of putts before going to the first tee. While he was preparing to change into his golf shoes, Kim saw Woods, whose tee time was much later but who had already had an extended pre-round practice session. Woods won the tournament while Kim finished tied for 52nd.

"That was quite a low point for my career," Kim said Sunday. "I wasn't doing myself justice to act that way and prepare that way."

The change has been dramatic.

And we're just seeing the start of it.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Big stars skipping Tiger's event, but why?

Tiger Woods isn’t the only star missing from the AT&T National this weekend at Congressional Country Club in Washington.

There’s no Phil Mickelson. No Adam Scott. No Vijay Singh. No Sergio Garcia. No Ernie Els.

Shall I continue?

In an event hosted by Tiger – who won’t be on the property at Congressional because flying causes his newly repaired left knee to swell – and is played on a superior course that will host the U.S. Open in three years, only five of the top 20 players in the current world rankings have bothered to show up.

It should remind us again how fortunate the Wachovia Championship has been to draw the star-stacked fields it has each year.

Tiger offered a modest defense of the field during a conference call this week when he said players make their own schedules based on many things and he understands they can’t play all the time. Tiger is the ultimate example of picking your spots, but he operates in a different universe.

What does the paucity of big names at Congressional mean?

I don’t think it’s guys dissing Tiger. If he asked a favor, I’m guessing most players would say sure.

The U.S. Open was three weeks ago, guys have had time to rest and the British Open is still two weeks away. This seems the perfect week to play. They can’t complain about the course and it’s the Fourth of July in Washington. Sure, it’s hot but it’s hot almost everywhere in July.

In fairness, some guys are ailing. Scott, for example, is still dealing with the hand he caught in a car door last month.

The edge has been dulled on this season now that Tiger is on the shelf, and it doesn’t help when what seems to be a big event winds up as a week off on too many stars’ schedules.

It is, unfortunately, the way of the world on the PGA Tour.

The question this week: Did Steve Stricker bring the fireworks?

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tiger talks about knee

During a conference call on Monday, Tiger Woods filled in some of the details about his knee problems that put a premature end to his 2008 season.

Woods said he still doesn’t know when he will return to competitive golf and won’t until he gets into his rehabilitation later this year. He said doctors have told him it could take between six and 12 months for him to fully recover.

Tiger said he’s had knee soreness the past 10 years because of the stress he puts on his knee in his swing. He said he’s worked to reduce the torque on the joint but the knee problems have been ongoing.

Woods said doctors told him when they removed a cyst from his knee in 2002 that his anterior cruciate ligament was more vulnerable to rupturing. To better support his knee, he worked hard on strengthening the muscles in his leg.

While running on a golf course last August, Woods said he took a slightly awkward step and felt his ACL rupture. “It didn’t take much,” he said. “Everyone was surprised it lasted as long as it did.”

He opted not to have reconstructive surgery at the time and focused on training to support his knee.

Woods said his knee “held up great” early in the year but became more unstable as the season went on. The natural rotation from his swing caused cartilage damage and his surgery after the Masters was intended to allow him to complete the 2008 season, then have reconstructive surgery.

He developed stress fractures, which caused him to miss The Memorial Tournament two weeks before the U.S. Open and the injury essentially shut down his practice time.

“It got to the point where I couldn’t walk to a cart. That’s not good when the cart is 10 feet away,” Woods said.

He couldn’t play more than nine holes in preparation for the Open and decided before the tournament that he would shut it down for the year after the championship, regardless of how he played. Of course, he won, proving that he can beat everyone else with just one good leg.

“It will be nice to finally have a healthy leg,” Woods said.

Friday, June 27, 2008

5 players to watch while Tiger's away

With Tiger Woods’ participation in the PGA Tour reduced to commercial breaks for the remainder of this season, the question becomes what happens now?

What, the Travelers Championship doesn’t float your boat?

The PGA Tour will survive without Tiger for the next four months (remember, it essentially surrenders football season) though television ratings will probably be somewhere in the range of ‘JAG’ reruns.

Still, it’s an opportunity for someone else to take the stage, especially in the run-up to the Ryder Cup, which is great theater with or without Tiger.

Here are five players who can help themselves and the PGA Tour in Tiger’s absence:

It’s his stage now. He flamed out at the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, but he’s still the brightest star in the universe while Tiger’s on the mend.

Lefty can carry the game if he plays well the rest of the summer. Don’t look for him to win the British Open, but perhaps the PGA and he’ll be a central character in the Ryder Cup.

It’s time for him to win a major and maybe fate pays him back at the British Open at Birkdale. His win at The Players was enormous for him, and he hung in there at the U.S. Open after a terrible start.

He has become a solid player who will probably be on the Ryder Cup team, just for him media center visits if nothing else. He’s likeable and he’s different enough that if he can win again, fans will notice.

I have the sense he’s the real deal. He idolizes Tom Watson and, while it’s way too soon to say he’s this generation’s Watson, he has similar characteristics. There’s an energy about Snedeker that gives off good vibes and people got to know him a little with his Masters experience.

He proved with his victory at the Masters that he’s an elite player. Now he has the chance to make himself a bigger star. He’s a sharp guy with a ton of talent and enough appeal to make people care. Another big win this summer would be huge for Immelman.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Rocco won fans, hearts at U.S. Open

Rocco Mediate didn’t win the U.S. Open trophy, but he won the hearts.

Until his disappointing end on the 91st hole of a championship that was so close to being his, Mediate found out that there’s still plenty of game left in his 45-year-old body and he learned how it feels to play golf on a cloud.

Tiger Woods is a marvel. We figured that out years ago.

Mediate is just a Pittsburgh guy, who has a balky back and likes to talk.

Everywhere he went over the weekend and on Monday, cheers of “Rocco, Rocco, Rocco” could be heard around Torrey Pines. He had the time of his life.

He could have melted when he was three strokes behind Tiger with eight holes remaining in the playoff, but he didn’t. Instead, Rocco made three straight birdies, flipped the advantage to himself and went to the 18th hole on Monday with a one-stroke lead.

It was the same position he was in on Sunday when Woods had to make a birdie to keep playing. Both times Mediate made a par on a hole that was generous about surrendering birdies.

When he absolutely had to make a birdie, he couldn’t and it cost him. As Rocco kept saying, he forced Woods to do something – and, naturally, Tiger did.

Mediate’s career may be defined by this Open because it reminded us again of how good a guy he is and how capable a player he is when his back isn’t forcing him to do television work or play professional poker.

The trophy went to Tiger.

But Rocco Mediate left with a smile on his face, too.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Winners, losers after Open's first round


-The working man: How else do you explain the presence of Kevin Streelman and Justin Hicks atop the leader board after 18 holes? Would you know either one of them if they pulled up a chair beside you?

The Open, of course, is sprinkled with guys who have been one-day wonders and they may fall into that category by Friday evening. But Thursday, they were better than everyone else.

-Ernie Els: He’s not a guy I figured had much of a shot in this Open, given the way his form has been. He’s traded mental coaches again, has changed his schedule back and forth a couple of times and seems unsettled.

But the Big Easy shot 70 in the first round and has a chance to build on that in the morning wave Friday. He knows how to win the U.S. Open, but it’ll take three more rounds.

-The course set-up: As promised, USGA officials played with the tee positions, shaving nearly 200 yards off Torrey Pines’ maximum distance. They’re likely to do the same thing today, though the adjustments might come on different holes.

Amazingly, no one has yet said this course set-up is too difficult.


-Defending champion Angel Cabrera: Maybe he should take up smoking again. Cabrera shot 43 on the front nine Thursday to shoot himself out of the tournament with an opening 79.

-Steve Stricker: He’s been mired in an ugly slump, missing four straight cuts and losing the edge that catapulted him to third in the world rankings late last year. He was leading for a time Thursday morning, shooting 4-under par on his first nine holes, but he followed that by shooting 41 on his second nine to wind up with a disappointing 73.

-Driver companies: Will Phil Mickelson start a trend by playing without a driver? Doubtful, unless the average Joe starts hitting 3-woods 280 yards.

Early surprises at the U.S. Open

There were two immediate surprises Thursday morning when Phil Mickelson, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott met on the first tee at Torrey Pines to begin play in the U.S. Open.

The first was that Woods would double-bogey the relatively benign opening hole, hardly the way he imagined starting. He yanked his tee shot into thick rough left of the fairway, hacked it back to the short grass, hit a short wedge shot over the green into more thick stuff then missed an 8-foot bogey putt.

Easy six.

It is not Woods’ worst start in a major. He triple-bogeyed the opening hole in the 2003 British Open at Royal St. Georges.

Woods, however, quickly righted himself and made the turn at 1-under par, looking increasingly like the guy to beat again.

The second surprise was the fact that Mickelson chose to play the first round without a driver in his bag.

He had a fairway wood and a hybrid but no big stick on the longest course in major championship history.

Perhaps he was just trying to level things out after playing the Masters in 2006 with two drivers.

The absence of a driver became noticeable on the 515-yard par-4 sixth hole where Lefty was 50 yards behind his playing partners off the tee. He made a bogey five there, the first of three straight bogeys.

For all the questions about whether Tiger would be sharp, it was Mickelson who – at least through the first nine holes – looked off his game.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

There's hang gliding, sunbathing in nude

No one keeps official records on this, but it’s a fair assumption that this is the first U.S. Open played beside a nude beach.

For sure, it’s the first Open at a course with a hanging gliding port located near one of the tees.

Then again, we are in southern California.

Hang gliding will be discouraged this week while the Open is being played at Torrey Pines’ South Course. The USGA tends to frown on birdies and fliers buzzing Phil Mickelson when he’s putting.

As for sunbathing in the buff, well, the weather so far this week has discouraged that. It’s been cloudy and cool, which isn’t good for working on your all-over tan but the so-called marine layer is expected to subside this weekend, which means there could be some interesting blimp shots on the telecast.

A more intrepid reporter would have ventured down to Black’s Beach – it has its own website which features a photo of sun-tanned posteriors – but it’s a long trek and, well, I’m comfortable in my khakis, which would probably look out of place down among the, uh, free spirits.

I’ll take the word of a friend that it’s an interesting sight. Maybe if I sneak in behind the fourth green – it’s the one along the cliffs you’ve probably seen photos of – I’ll peek over at the beach.

And if you catch a shot of Tiger looking over the cliff there, you’ll know why.