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.