Thursday, December 29, 2011

Five memories from the 2011 golf season

   Before we turn out the lights on 2011, here are five things from the golf year that I will remember:

   1. Rory McIlroy's season
   Perhaps my most vivid memory of the year is seeing McIlroy walking from the scoring cabin behind the 18th green at Augusta National following his final-round meltdown, making his way through hundreds of fans who stood and cheered for him despite his overwhelming disappointment.

    As McIlroy walked under the big tree behind the Augusta National clubhouse, the cheers grew louder with some patrons leaning over the veranda railing to acknowledge him. Inside the locker room, McIlroy patiently answered questions from media members, holding his shoes in a bag as he waited to leave.

   He was the essence of grace at a moment when he undoubtedly wanted to hide.

   Two months later, McIlroy won the U.S. Open at Congressional with a performance that made Sunday at Augusta seem like a bad dream.

  2. Webb Simpson's emergence

    When Simpson was forced to penalize himself one stroke for his ball being moved by the wind late in the final round of the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, it was a bitter twist of fate, costing him an outright victory and sending him into a playoff he lost to Bubba Watson.

   But by the end of the season, it was just another chapter in a tremendous story that had Simpson elevating himself to the top 10 in the world rankings. Winless on the PGA Tour when 2011 began, Simpson ended the year with two trophies, a share of the Presidents Cup and a place at the table in the discussion about who is America's best golfer.

   With his belly putter and a relentless competitive streak, Simpson looks built for the long haul. What started in 2011 may not end for many years.

   3. Sunday at Augusta

   It's rare that Sunday at the Masters doesn't deliver drama but the 2011 version was a classic.

   It had Tiger Woods torching the front side and racing up the leader board, threatening to pull off a jaw-dropping comeback victory. It had Adam Scott and Jason Day battling for the lead. It had McIlroy playing out from beside a white cabin along the 10th fairway and four-putting the 12th green.

   Finally, it had Charl Schwartzel birdieing the last four holes to win, something no one had ever done before.

  4. Splash down

   With more than $11 million on the line, Bill Haas stepped into the edge of a mirror-smooth pond to the left the 17th green at East Lake Golf Club and hit what may have been the shot of the year, a watery blast that saved a par in the playoff against Hunter Mahan at the Tour Championship.

   One hole later, Haas won the Tour Championship and the FedEx Cup at the same time, a double dip he didn't realize he'd won until he was presented both trophies.

   5. The Clemson connection

   The Wells Fargo Championship came down to a pair of former Tiger All-Americans -- Lucas Glover and Jonathan Byrd -- going sudden death at Quail Hollow.

   Byrd, wearing pink pants, made a magnificent birdie at the treacherous 18th hole in the final round to force a playoff with Glover, whose thick beard had some fans wearing 'Fear the Beard' t-shirts.

   When Glover won the playoff, he hugged his mother during the trophy presentation and smiled a smile no beard could hide.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Champions Tour headed back to Hickory

   It looks like the popular Greater Hickory Classic at Rock Barn will return again next year.
   When the 2012 Champions Tour schedule was released, it included the tournament which has had to scrap for sponsorship at various times during its history. There are still some sponsorship issues to be resolved for next year's event but the fact the tour included the Rock Barn stop on its schedule suggests it's in good shape.
  An announcement about the tournament's future and sponsorship may come in January.

   It will fall at an ideal time -- Oct. 12-14 -- in Hickory and will follow the SAS Championship in Cary, giving the seniors a chance to spend two weeks in North Carolina.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Tiger, the way it used to be

I recognize that Tiger Woods.

And it's good to see him again.

When Woods won the Chevron World Championship Sunday with a closing birdie to beat Zach Johnson by a stroke, it ended a two-year winless drought and gave us the most definitive evidence that the guy we once marveled at as he rewrote history is on his way back.

He may never be all that he was -- nobody's ever been as good as Woods was for a time -- but if he can be Tiger again that's good enough.

When Johnson missed his birdie putt on the 72nd hole Sunday, Woods had an eight-footer to win. He may not have always made every one of those but it seemed like he did. That's part of what made him special -- the expectation that he was going to do whatever it took because he did it so often.

He did it again Sunday, making a birdie to win and giving us a fist pump that had been waiting to get out. It seems funny to say but it felt fresh.

There was a time when it was a regular occurrence, bordering on the routine. Not anymore. That's what made Sunday special.

Sure, it was a small field in what amounts to a made-for-television event but it still mattered. A year ago, Woods stood at the same place and lost to Graeme McDowell. This time, he won.

It wasn't perfect but it was good enough and that's perhaps the secret to winning tournaments -- being good enough.

I've heard the question several times recently about whether Tiger can still move the needle the way he once did. Maybe not.

But had Johnson or Rickie Fowler or Steve Stricker won the Chevron, it would have hardly been noticed. Because Tiger won, it's news. The needle moved.

Among the many things we haven't seen from Tiger in a long while is a full and healthy season. It seems as if we might get one in 2012, a season in which his knee and his Achilles are in good shape, his Sean Foley-sculpted golf swing is comfortable and his head is clear.

If he has all that, then all us, Tiger included, can find out if he can still chase down Jack Nicklaus.

That would be something to see.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Nationwide Tour event adds to Charlotte golf collection

   With the expected announcement later this month that Chiquita will sponsor a Nationwide Tour event at the Club at Longview beginning next fall, the professional golf calendar continues to improve around Charlotte.

   The Nationwide Tour is stuffed with outstanding players, many of whose names are familiar to golf fans. It's where good young players go to work their way onto the PGA Tour and where older players try to earn their way back.
   The Club at Longview is strong enough to host a Nationwide event and it should bring along some well-deserved attention to a very good golf course.

  In addition to the annual Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow Club, the recent announcement that Raintree Country Club will host an event for the LPGA's developmental tour, the continued growth of the talent-rich eGolf Professional Tour based here and regular first-stage PGA Tour qualifying events at the Club at Irish Creek, it's a very good time for pro golf in the Charlotte area.

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.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Locals Goggin, Kokrak lock up 2012 PGA Tour spots

   The Charlotte connection on the 2012 PGA Tour grew larger over the weekend with Mathew Goggin and Jason Kokrak officially securing their spots on the big tour through their strong play on the Nationwide Tour.

   Both Charlotte residents had locked up spots on the PGA Tour through their season-long performance and it became official with the conclusion of the Nationwide Tour Championship at Daniel Island, S.C.

   Goggin was the Nationwide Tour's dominant player through the first half of the year and finished third on the money list with $378,492 including two victories.

   Kokrak also had two victories and finished fourth on the money list with $338,092 in earnings.

   They will join locals Webb Simpson, Johnson Wagner, Brendon de Jonge and Robert Karlsson on the PGA Tour next year.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Simpson is just getting started

   Luke Donald showed why he's the No.1 golfer in the world Sunday and it cost Webb Simpson the PGA Tour money title and, almost certainly, the tour's player of the year award.

   Simpson can feel disappointed about coming so close to two goals that meant so much but the disappointment will be temporary. It's probably already gone, in fact.

   Nothing can change the fact that Simpson has had a spectacular year, leaping into the game's top orbit with his play. With nine holes remaining in the season's final event, Simpson was in position to win the money title and, by extention, perhaps the player of the year. But Donald made six straight birdies and demonstrated why he's clearly the No. 1 player in the game.

   If you've got to get beat, that's the way to get beat, with the best in the world shooting 64 on Sunday with the pressure on to beat you.

   For Donald, it's understandable that he felt "over the moon" after his performance Sunday.

   For Simpson, the satisfaction comes in all that he's done and the way he forced Donald to do the unlikely to beat him. Simpson isn't a one-season wonder. He's likely to be around for the long run and by the time the Masters rolls around in April, he'll be on the list of contenders.

    It could have ended better for Simpson but this isn't as much about how it ended as it is about what's begun for him.

    He's just getting started.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

2012 PGA Tour schedule looks familiar

   The 2012 PGA Tour schedule was released Wednesday with no dramatic changes but with a handful of significant tweaks to a lineup that will have a familiar feel.

   From a local perspective, the important dates are as follow:

   -- The Masters is April 2-8 at Augusta National;
   -- The RBC Heritage is April 9-15 at Harbour Town Golf Links and back to its traditional date the week following the Masters;

    -- The Wells Fargo Championship is April 30-May 6 at Quail Hollow Club;

    -- The PGA Championship is Aug. 6-12 at Kiawah Island's Ocean Course;

    -- And, the Wyndham Championship is Aug. 13-19 at Sedgefield Country Club in Greensboro.

   Among the changes next year will be an adjustment to the season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua which will end on Monday, Jan. 9 rather than on Sunday. The shift allows NBC to promote the event during its NFL playoff coverage and for the final round to air on The Golf Channel prior to kickoff of the BCS Championship game the same evening.

   The Greenbrier Classic in West Virginia is moving to Fourth of July week and the final event of the fall series -- the Children's Miracle Network Classic -- will be played later, ending Nov. 11.

   With the Ryder Cup matches set in 2012, the FedEx Cup playoffs will be adjusted with an open week preceding the Tour Championship, which is scheduled Sept. 17-23 in Atlanta. The Ryder Cup matches will be played Sept. 24-30 in Chicago.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Player of the year: Simpson or Donald?

   The player of the year battle on the PGA Tour has now come down to two -- Webb Simpson and Luke Donald.

   Right now, the momentum and maybe a shade more votes, are on Simpson's side after he went to the McGladrey Classic to jump Donald on the money list and did it, almost winning his third event in six starts in the process.

   Had Simpson won the Sunday playoff over Ben Crane at Sea Island, he'd be the player of the year favorite going to the season finale at the Disney World this week. As it is, he and Donald will have what amounts to a duel for the season-long money title and POY votes.

   The challenge falls to Donald now, who trails Simpson by $363,029 on the official money list. Donald's goal is to win both the PGA Tour and European Tour money titles this season, something that's never been done and the fact he's so close to doing it speaks to how good he's been. He's the leader in the worldwide player of the year category, for sure.

   To beat Simpson for the money title -- a distinction that carries a bit of everlasting fame with it -- Donald can finish no worse than a two-way tie for second at the Children's Miracle Network event. Since he lives in the top 10 -- Donald has one win, two seconds, two thirds and 13 top-10s on tour this year -- he'll probably be tougher to escape than Mickey Mouse over the next week.

   For Simpson, this has already been a career-changing season. In the ever-popular best American player debate, the discussion may start with Simpson at the moment. It will be fascinating to see how he plays for captain Fred Couples at the Presidents Cup in Australia next month, his first international team play as a pro.

   When Donald committed last Friday to play Disney to chase the money title, Simpson followed suit. He is embracing the challenge and the moment, a hint of his confidence level.

   Both players have had brilliant seasons already. And they're not done yet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Simpson taking a swing at winning tour money title

   A few quick observations:

  -- Rickie Fowler got his first professional win on Sunday in South Korea and while it didn't come on the PGA Tour, it was an important win just the same. Fowler needed to win someplace and beating a good field that included Rory McIlroy was a substantial step for him.
   As the season wore on, Fowler began to be overshadowed by other players, including Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson. If Fowler can win early on the PGA Tour in 2012, it would be huge for him and the tour.

  -- Speaking of Simpson, he's playing in the McGladrey Classic this week at Sea Island in hopes of making the $60,000 or so he needs to pass Luke Donald to capture the money title on the PGA Tour this year.

    Simpson was at the Panthers' game Sunday in his jeans and t-shirt and a white cap he wore backward, looking totally comfortable which he should be given the breakout season he's had. Winning the money title would put a nice cap on a career-changing season.

  -- What to make of Tiger Woods' week at the event?

   I'm not quite sure. He played well in stretches, hit some funky shots at times and didn't dramatically change anything we know about him and his game at the moment.

   Just making the cut at a Fall Series event isn't what Tiger's about. He was never in contention and we're not going to see him again until he goes to Australia next month. For a guy who says he needs to play to get his edge back, I wish he'd play another tournament or two here. It's not going to happen, however.

    For a guy who's such a controversial addition to the Presidents Cup team, Woods will have all eyes on him when he tees it up at Royal Melbourne for Captain Couples.

   -- There's not a better time to play golf around here than this time of year. The greens are quick, the fairways are running and there's still enough rough to be a bother. It's tough to get frustrated even if you're chopping it around.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Win gets Haas final Presidents Cup spot

   Bill Haas won more than the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship Sunday.

   The former Wake Forest All-American was named as the final wild-card pick to the U.S. team today by captain Fred Couples, who confirmed his previous announcement by also adding Tiger Woods as a captain's pick.

   International team captain Greg Norman added Australians Robert Allenby and Aaron Baddeley to his team, which will host the Americans in early November at Royal Melbourne Golf Club.

   Couples said he made it clear to Haas prior to the Tour Championship that he needed to win to make the team, on which Jay Haas is an assistant captain along with Charlotte Bobcats owner Michael Jordan.
   "Jay and I talked about this scenario and Michael went over this (a few) months ago. The way for us to do this was to let the guys play. In this instance, Bill Haas knew he had to win. I didn't bother him during the tournament. I think he's smart enough to know what had to happen," Couples said on a conference call.

  Couples said he narrowed his final choice to Haas, PGA champion Keegan Bradley and Brandt Snedeker.
   Should Steve Stricker be unable to participate in the Presidents Cup due to herniated disk that has been bothering him, Couples said Bradley will be his replacement.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Will it be Haas or Bradley or...?

   Observations on one of the better golf weekends of the year:

  -- If I were Fred Couples (wow, there's a thought), I"m not sure whether I'd pick Bill Haas or Keegan Bradley with my final captain's pick for the Presidents Cup team.

   Those two seem to be the finalists for Captain Freddie and both have made their cases. Bradley has two wins, including the PGA and Haas just won the FedEx Cup and the Tour Championship, knowing it was probably the only way he could convince Couples to add him to the team.

   The popular sentiment seems to be in Bradley's corner because of his two wins this year and the way Haas struggled to close tournaments, even Sunday when he won on the third extra hole. The good thing for Haas is his victory should have eliminated any notion of favoritism that could have slipped into the debate if he's the guy Couples chooses. Jay Haas said he will stay out of the way and let Couples make his own decision, though it's obvious what it would mean to have a father and son together on the team.

   My guess is Couples will take Haas when he makes the announcement Tuesday.

  -- It seems the Solheim Cup did itself a disservice in requiring the U.S. team to surrender a full point because of Cristie Kerr's injury that prevented her from playing in the singles on Sunday. It played a major role in the American's inability to hold onto the cup.

   It seems fairer to do like the Ryder Cup and agree to a draw if one player is unable to play.

   Still, the finish was compelling, seeing the European team rally as it did to win the cup. Team competitions like the Solheim Cup show us the players in a different light and it's fun to see them showing their emotions as they do. I'm still not a big fan of flags painted on cheeks but I love seeing what it means to the players.

   Seeing Michelle Wie react to the late birdie putt she made, watching Suzanne Petterssen close like a champ and sensing the disappointment in Laura Davies when she bogeyed the finishing hole is the kind of emotion that seems to show only in international team events. It's beautiful to watch.

  -- By adding Joe LaCava as his new caddie, Tiger Woods has one of the best in the business working with him.

   LaCava is a pro's pro and should be perfect working with Tiger. Exactly how the move went down -- did Dustin Johnson know LaCava was among the caddies Woods was considering? -- remains unclear but the new partnership should be a critical next step for Woods as he attempts to recapture his lost magic.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Forest Creek to host 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur

   The 2013 U.S. Mid-Amateur championship has been awarded to Forest Creek Golf Club near Pinehurst, an impressive designation for the private club.

   Forest Creek has two Tom Fazio-designed golf courses that have earned plenty of praise since the original South Course layout opened in 1996. The North Course was added in 2005.

   The Mid-Am championship will be played Oct. 5-10, 2013.

  “We are honored and grateful that the USGA has entrusted our golf club with the distinct honor of hosting one of its prestigious national championships,” Forest Creek Golf Club president Terry Brown said in a statement.

  “We proudly consider Forest Creek to be one of the country’s most outstanding communities to live in, and our golf club is committed to amateur golf with a vision of giving back to the game.

   "We have two highly rated golf courses that I am confident will stand up to the high quality and challenges expected by the Mid-Amateur Committee as well as the players. We very much look forward to October 2013.”

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

It's $10 million, but it's only money

   To most of us, the prospect of winning $10 million is the stuff of dreams.

   It's why you buy that lottery ticket -- I've never bought one which may explain why I've never won -- and daydream about what you'd do with all that money if it somehow wound up in your back account via direct deposit.

   For the 30 players at the Tour Championship, which begins Thursday at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta, there's the certainty that one of them will walk away with the $10-million prize for winning the FedEx Cup. That will be on top of whatever money they win in the tournament itself, which gives $1.44 million to the winner, which ain't bad for four days' work.

   All 30 of them will happily take the money and tuck it into something that will probably make them more money, like a very nice vacation home or investments or something people with $10 million put their money into.

   But it's only money.

   "I'm not really thinking about the money," Luke Donald said, adding his focus is on winning and being the PGA Tour player of the year.

   "Where I am in my career, I've been fortunate. I don't know where I am on the (career) money list, $25 million or something. It's not like I can't afford to buy things. I have two nice houses. I don't spend a lot on materialistic stuff but the money, it would be nice to kind of keep it away. I haven't really thought if I won it what I would spend the money on."

   Geoff Ogivly put it this way:
   "The money is obviously really nice but it's like beating your friend for $2 on the putting green. It's better to beat him for $2 than it is just to beat him for the fun of it, you know what I mean? There would be something to coming down the last nine holes, this is for $10 million and doing it. Irrelevant of what ends up in your bank account, it just sounds better, don't you think?"

   It's something most of us can only dream about.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Is The Next Great American Player Just 16 Years Old?

   Checking out the golf scene between Cam Newton passes:

  -- Lexi Thompson's victory on the LPGA Tour was a beautiful bonus for a tour that needs all the newsmakers it can get.

    At 16, she became the tour's youngest-ever winner by two years and added more weight to the notion that she'll be the next great American player. She's almost that already.

   There is the pesky problem of not being eligible to play the LPGA Tour full-time because of its age guidelines but I'm guessing tour officials will find a way to work through the issue so that Thompson can get her tour card, given as how she's already better than almost everyone not named Yani Tseng.

   Her win has led to the inevitable comparisons with Michelle Wie, whose performance has not matched her stardom. From a distance, they seem very different. I've never sensed Wie had the burning desire to be the game's best player, something that Thompson seems to have.

   That's not a knock on Wie, only a recognition her world reaches far beyond golf, which explains why she's going the distance at Stanford. It may have impacted her professional career but I'm guessing she's thrilled by her college experience. There's plenty of time for her to play professional golf.

  -- Webb Simpson takes the FedEx Cup lead into the Tour Championship this weekend at East Lake, chasing a $10-million prize and putting a bigger stamp on his arrival as one of the game's best young guns.

   The way Simpson has been playing over the past couple of months, it's hard to argue against him being the player to beat. He's been in contention seemingly every week but finishing it off at East Lake will be a huge challenge.

   Dustin Johnson starts in second place but Luke Donald, the world No. 1, is lurking just behind. Donald is always there and this seems like a moment when he could cap a huge season.

   For Simpson, a good start seems critical.

  -- Fred Couples has one spot remaining on his Presidents Cup team and he will likely choose from Keegan Bradley, Rickie Fowler, Brandt Snedeker or Bill Haas.

   The popular choice is Bradley given his victory in the PGA Championship last month, though he followed it with a pair of missed cuts. Haas didn't help himself by coming apart at the end of the BMW Championship and Fowler hasn't done enough recently to warrant the pick.

   Snedeker has a good case but I'm betting it's Bradley who gets the call from Captain Couples. If it were me, I'd probably call Snedeker.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Phil Goes Belly; Who's Next?

   Two immediate thoughts about Phil Mickelson using the belly putter in the Deutsche Bank pro-am and, perhaps, beyond:

   1. It was initially surprising, maybe because I hadn't really thought about it, but given a moment to think about it, how can it hurt?

   2. After 35 putts the last time I played -- and having already gone to cross-handed with the previously mentioned results -- maybe I should try it.

   In Mickelson's case, everyone knows he can miss it from anywhere and, too often, has. The case can be made that he's missed enough shortish ones through the years to have cost him a major or two, including the Open Championship in July.

   With seemingly everyone using or at least trying belly putters, it's natural for Phil and his mad scientist side to give it go. He's seen what it's done for his buddy Keegan Bradley and others so it was natural for Phil to try it.

   It could be the final piece of the Mickelson puzzle, the one thing that gets him from age 41 to the Champions Tour or thereabouts. Or maybe it's just a flirtation, somethign to convince him he's still more comfortable with the conventional style.

   If Phil goes to the belly putter full time, it add more fire to the question of whether they should be legal or not. My hunch is they'll stay legal but I can see the case otherwise.
   As for me, I'll wait on the belly putter. Everyone needs a last resort.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Carolinas Golf House coming to Pine Needles

   The Carolinas is getting its own version of the USGA's Golf House.

   The Carolinas Golf Association has announced plans to build Carolinas Golf House adjacent to the Pine Needles Resort in Southern Pines.

   The facility will serve as headquarters for the Carolinas Golf Association as well as a museum devoted to the history of the game in the two states. Its location will allow the organization to host events at Pine Needles. The CGA offices have been located in Seven Lakes for 20 years but have outgrown the facility.

   "We have talked for years about building this," CGA president Walter Todd said in a release. "We have wanted a way to display the history of the game in the Carolinas. Now we will be able to portray accurately the ideals and traditions of golf."

Friday, August 26, 2011

Picking Tiger Woods: Was it the right thing?

   So captain Fred Couples picked Tiger Woods as one of his two wild-card choices to be on the U.S. Presidents Cup team in Australia this fall.

   I like it.

   It's not necessarily the popular thing, based on some immediate reaction, but Couples picked the guy who's been the best player on the planet for most of the last 12 to 15 years and who seems to want to be on the team, an interesting twist given Tiger's supposed lack of interest in team events through the years.

   The knee jerk reaction is to ask why Couples picked Woods -- currently 28th in points -- over No. 11 Jim Furyk and No. 12 Rickie Fowler, the first two non-qualifiers at this point given Woods lack of competition and recent poor form.

   Couples can still pick one of them. If the captain is expected to automatically adds Nos. 11 and 12 to the team, then why give him two picks?

    Furyk hasn't exactly set the world on fire this year and Fowler, of whom I'm a big fan, still hasn't won a tournament and hasn't threatened in many recently. Fowler was great at the end of the Ryder Cup last year and he'd be the other pick if I were making it.
   There are plenty of others who have a strong case, including recent PGA champion Keegan Bradley, who has won twice this year. Maybe Couples picks him over Fowler. Phil Mickelson publicly lobbied for Bradley this week, saying it would be okay to pick Tiger for the team but not before adding Bradley.

   Couples knew he would take a hit for picking Woods but he did it anyway. He has apparently convinced Tiger to add a fall series event to his schedule to help sharpen his game prior to heading to Australia and it's worth remembering that just four tournament starts ago, Woods had a share of the lead on the back nine at Augusta on Sunday.

   Granted, that was in April and recently Woods' game has looked as disheveled as ever. That's why Couples pushed for Tiger to add an event this fall, which sounds likely.

   Did Couples pick Woods because of the player he used to be?

   Sure he did. He didn't pick him because he got extra work on his sand game at the PGA Championship in Atlanta and is fresh because he got that weekend and the FedEx Cup playoffs off. He picked Tiger because he's Tiger. If you're picking a team and have the chance to have Tiger, it's tough to leave him off no matter how scattered his game looked in Atlanta.

   It's a gamble, no question, if it blows up on Couples like Lanny Wadkins' pick of Curtis Strange for the Ryder Cup team. That was the Ryder Cup, which is a far bigger deal than the Presidents Cup and, if nothing else, the Woods' pick will make the PGA Tour's Ryder Cup knockoff a bit more compelling.

   Obviously, there are fundamental issues Woods needs to work through in his swing but he also needs to play, now more than ever. Like him or not, Tiger needs some good vibes on the golf course. Playing alongside his buddy Steve Stricker, an almost certain pairing, will be perfect for Tiger.

  Couples' pick means a deserving player, probably a young one, gets left off. It happens almost every time one of these teams is picked.  He could have left Tiger off but he chose not to do that.

  It's strange to think that's not necessarily the popular pick. We'll find out if it was the right one.


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Playing Whistling Straits with Martin Kaymer

   When Charlotte's John Pappas, a 52-year old commercial real estate executive, received an email a month ago informing him he'd won a BMW-sponsored contest to play golf with 2010 PGA champion Martin Kaymer at Whistling Straits on the one-year anniversary of Kaymer's playoff victory there, he didn't take it seriously at first.

   Pappas had forgotten he'd entered the sweepstakes from which three amateurs were chosen to play with Kaymer. He doesn't typically enter contests but he had put his name in this one just for kicks and when an email from BMW's golf agency arrived, Pappas was "leery" about it.

   An email and a phone call later, Pappas was set for one of the great golf adventures of his life.

   He was flown to Chicago where he met the other winners -- one from Germany, the other from England -- and they played 18 holes at Cog Hill on Aug. 14. Afterward, they were whisked to Whistling Straits north of Milwaukee where they had dinner with Kaymer at the American Club.

   The next day, the three amateurs played a best-ball match against Kaymer using their handicaps. They broke even after the amateurs good-naturedly penalized Kaymer for carrying 15 clubs. It was Kaymer's first visit to the course since his dramatic victory there.

   They arrived on a good day. Pappas said LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez and speaker of the house John Boehner were also at Whistling Straits and stopped to visit with the group.

   "(Kaymer) was quite a nice guy and, as you would imagine, his golf game was incredible," said Pappas, a Charlotte Country Club member. "It was great to watch someone like that play from up close. He was so professional and willing to help in any way.

  "But he really wanted to win the match. He was grinding a little at the end."

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Iceland Man Cometh To The PGA Tour

Olafur Loftsson is making a bit of history this week by becoming the first Iceland-born golfer to play in a PGA Tour event, having earned a spot in the Wyndham Championship field with his victory last weekend at the Cardinal Amateur.

Loftsson is a rising senior on the Charlotte 49ers golf team, another in a long line of very good players in the program.

The obvious question is how much golf there is in Iceland. The answer, Lofsson said, is more than most of us think. There are 60 to 70 courses, most of them links-style, in Iceland and they're busy five to six months a year.

"It's the second-most popular sport in Iceland behind soccer and it's growing very fast," Loftsson said in a pre-tournament press conference. "A lot of the population plays golf. It's very popular for youngsters now and we're seeing a lot of potential players rising these days."

Loftsson said a couple of television crews made the journey from Iceland to document his week on the PGA Tour.

"Very tanned. You can recognize them by their skin color," Loftsson joked.

Because it stays light almost around the clock during mid-summer in Iceland, Loftsson said he's played as many as 64 holes in a day.

"I love playing golf adn to be able to play golf 24/7 in Iceland late in June, on a good day it's calm outside and you can play all day long so why wouldn't you," Loftsson said.

"I usually take the opportunity to use the good days when they come in Iceland."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wyndham Championship Catches Big Name Break

When the Wyndham Championship settled into its spot following the PGA Championship and in the week before the FedEx Cup playoffs begin, the date came with obvious challenges. Most of the top players figured to take the week off to prep for the playoff push, such as it is.

The hope was that the race to finish inside the top 125 would create a bit of drama, something that hasn't really happened. This year, however, the Wyndham Championship hit it big with several top names making late commitments in an effort to assure their place in the playoffs.

That's why Ernie Els, at No. 126 in the points, is playing Greensboro this week. The same goes for Padraig Harrington, No. 130, rescheduled a planned vacation, and it's why Angel Cabrera, No. 150, is at Sedgefield.

As Els said on his blog this week, "This really is a last chance saloon, as they say."

Toss in Anthony Kim, Ian Poulter, Jim Furyk, Paul Casey and Davis Love III and Greensboro has one of the most attractive fields it has had in many years.

Like other years, it figures to be one of the lower scoring events on tour this year.

"You have to make a lot of birdies," Charles Howell III. "That's not the end of the world."

Monday, August 15, 2011

VIDEO: Ron Jr. on Keegan Bradley's PGA win

Ron Green Jr. on Keegan Bradley's surprising PGA win. Who is this guy, and how did he come to win the PGA Championship? (Hint, he had help from Jason Dufner):

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Five Things The PGA Championship Showed Us

Five things the PGA Championship showed us:

1. Americans Can Still Win Majors

No one figured it would fall to Keegan Bradley and Jason Dufner to salvage American pride in the majors but they did with Bradley ending a run of six straight international winners in the majors. Two other Americans finished in the top 10 -- David Toms and Scott Verplank.

If you had those guys as your top four Americans, you're not telling the truth.

2. Keegan Bradley Is A Star

Winning a major championship doesn't guarantee stardom but Bradley has the extra something that draws fans to him. The way he fought, the way he reacted and the way he handled himself Sunday was exceptional.

Bradley is a good tough course player and he established himself as one of the faces of the new generation of American players.

3. Luke Donald Is Always There

We knew that before the PGA Championship but he tied for eighth, another in a string of strong performances by the world's No.1 ranked player.

Like everybody in the field except Bradley, Donald can think back on a couple of disasters that cost him a chance to win. Like so many others, he came to despise the 18th hole, or at least the scores he made there. The way he's going, Donald may hold on to No. 1 for a while.

4. Tiger Isn't Close

He says he's getting closer but his results don't suggest it. Twenty bunkers. Almost two sleeves of Nikes in the water. No wonder he wasn't around for the weekend.

The next time we'll see him play is at the Australian Open in a couple of months. I expect he'll be better there. How could he not be?

5. The Playoffs Start In Two Weeks

I repeat, the playoffs start in two weeks. The PGA Tour playoffs. The FedEx Cup thing.

Okay, then, the Masters is only eight months away.

McIlroy: See You At The Match Play Next Year

We've seen the last of Rory McIlroy on this side of the Atlantic until late February if the U.S. Open champion sticks to the schedule he has mapped out. After that, however, we may see him plenty if he takes up membership on the PGA Tour next year as he plans.

In the meantime, McIlroy will stay busy on the European Tour through the end of the year.

After finishing the PGA Championship Sunday at 11-over, which included a triple bogey at the par-4 third hole which he failed to par during the tournament (three bogeys and a triple), McIlroy said what his body language showed.

"To be honest, I'm glad to be done," McIlroy said.

McIlroy said his right wrist is getting better, the swelling in his damaged tendon having gone down to the point there's no real concern long-term. He plans to take a couple of weeks off, relax and get ready for the season-ending stretch on the European Tour.

By winning the U.S. Open in the dominating fashion he did, McIlroy took the expected jump in his career. He's now arguably the game's most popular player and has another year of wisdom to call on down the road.

"I feel comfortable in these events and the win this year in the U.S. Open will give me a lot of confidence going into them next year," McIlroy said Sunday.

He plans to wait until later to go house-hunting in south Florida, setting up an American base by the time he makes his planned return to the PGA Tour at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February in Arizona.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

VIDEO: Ron Green Jr. on Day 1 of the PGA

Ron Green Jr. on Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Rory McIlroy, along with highlights from Day 1 of the PGA Championship:

PGA Championship Becoming A Part Of The Carolinas

   Among the decorations greeting guests to the PGA Championship at the Atlanta Athletic Club are several banners celebrating future sites of the year's final major championship.

   One reads, 2012 Kiawah Island. Another reads, 2017 Quail Hollow.

   Pretty cool if you live in the Carolinas and you're into golf. And that doesn't count the dual U.S. Opens coming to Pinehurst in 2014.

   A year from now, Kiawah Island's Ocean Course will be on the world stage again, 21 years after its stunning debut at the 1991 Ryder Cup matches. It's a different course now, some of its wild edges tamed but it's still one of the most dramatic settings in golf. If the wind blows -- and since it's likely to be over 90 degreees each day it had better blow -- it could be a supreme test.

   Kiawah officials have had great success selling the championship. They've already sold 94 percent of the tickets and expect to be sold out once they reopn the registration list Sunday evening to fill the final six percent of tickets. They made the wise move of reducing spectator capacity to 30,000 per day, well below the gallery size at most majors.

   Corporate support has been extremely strong and there's every reason to believe the championship will be a big success.

   Six years from now, it will be at Quail Hollow. It's a long time but not that long. Officials from the Wells Fargo Championship have been in Atlanta this week getting the lay of the land, studying the infrastructure that will be required. It's a substantially larger than what a regular tour event requires.

   There are changes coming to Quail Hollow for the PGA. There will be bermuda grass on the greens by then and there will likely be some tweaks made to the layout.

   There's also the inevitable question about the future of the Wells Fargo Championship at Quail Hollow. That's a decision to be made down the road.


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poulter, Kim Add Names To Greensboro Field

   Ian Poulter, Anthony Kim and Louis Oosthuizen are the latest top players to commit to the Wyndham Championship next week in Greensboro.
   They add their names to a field that includes Paul Casey, David Toms, Davis Love III, Brandt Snedeker, John Daly, Lucas Glover and others.


Sunday, August 07, 2011

Tiger and Stevie: Leaving A Scar

   I'll give Steve Williams the benefit of the doubt that he didn't intend to upstage his new boss, Adam Scott, in the hours after Scott won the World Golf Championship Bridgestone Invitational but it happened anyway.

   It was inevitable given the timing of it all, Williams being on Scott's bag at Firestone of all places where his former boss, Tiger Woods, had won seven times before with Stevie on the bag and Tiger finishing in the middle of the pack in his first tournament in more than three months.

   For Scott, it was an impressive victory, the kind we thought there might be more of by now. For years, he's been the model of the modern golf swing but his short game and putting, a bugaboo to many, had kept him from winning as often as he might have. Amazingly, Scott switched to the long putter and the hole keeps getting in the way of his 12-footers.

   This win should be about him but it turned into Stevie against Tiger and no one won.

   Williams said it was the best week of his 33-year caddie life and maybe it was but there were some pretty sweet weeks in those 11 or so years he was carrying the bag for Tiger. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. Torrey Pines.

    Scars leave numb spots and maybe that's what happened with Williams.

   That's not to say Woods didn't help create the strange scenario that has unfolded. We all know what the last 20 months have been like and that would strain the closest relationships.

   Maybe Tiger truly believed it was time to make a break with Stevie. Or, maybe he was irked because Williams picked up Scott's bag at the U.S. Open and stayed with it, wondering if and when Woods was coming back.

   Nothing's simple in Tiger's life anymore, at least not looking in from the outside.

   It's understandable that Williams would feel a sense of joy and vindication with Scott's victory. He took the split from Woods hard. Most of us would.

    Maybe it took something like this to make the split permanent. Maybe it meant leaving a scar.


Thursday, August 04, 2011

Rory: 'I Love Quail Hollow'

   It looks as if we're going to be seeing more of Rory McIlroy on the PGA Tour next year which is a very good thing on a number of levels, not the least of which is it probably assures his return to the Wells Fargo Championship.

   McIlroy said this week he's "leaning towards" rejoining the PGA Tour which requires him to play 15 events, something he chose not to do this season in part because he didn't care for the FedEx Cup playoffs at the end of the season.

   What McIlroy does like -- and what appears to be the trump card in his decision process -- is playing places like Quail Hollow Club.

   "I feel as if my game really suits playing courses over here. I love Quail Hollow, Memorial, Akron. You play Match Play, Honda, Doral, Masters," McIlroy said Wednesday prior to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
   "You have your favorite events, and most of my favorite events seem to be on this side of the pond. And my game suits it over here. I'm very comfortable over here.

   "I'd like to give it a go again and obviously last more than one year and really see how it goes."


Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Haven't We Been Here Before?

   Haven't we been here before?

   Haven't we waited and wondered about what we'll see from Tiger Woods when he returns from another long absence?

   As the t-shirt says, been there, done that.

   Still, when Woods and Darren Clarke tee off together at 1:40 p.m. Thursday, they'll have golf's attention -- and the attention of plenty of others. It's because he's Tiger and things change when he plays.

    Even if you don't like Tiger, aren't you a little curious about how he plays? About how his swing looks? About whether he holes any putts?

   I am.

    There's already been a veritable tabloid frenzy about whether he put his trusty Scotty Cameron putter back in play -- he did. Other guys change putters and they have to tell somebody for anyone other than their caddie to notice. Not Tiger.

   He's breaking out some new Nike shoes this week and an email came screaming across cyberspace explaining what the new shoes are all about. Because Tiger's wearing them. Stewart Cink could have them on and nobody would notice.

   For more than a decade, golf was Tiger's world. Now it's Rory's and Phil's and Darren's and, at least some of it still belongs to Tiger.

    We can find out now how much of it he can reclaim.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Wyndham, Greensboro Extend Partnership Through 2016

   The future just got brighter for the PGA Tour event in Greensboro.

   Officials announced today that Wyndham Worldwide has extended its sponsorship of the event through 2016, solidifying the tournament that has taken on a new life since returning to Sedgefield Country Club three years ago.

    “We are proud to extend our agreement with our wonderful partners at Wyndham Worldwide,”  Bobby Long, Piedmont Triad Charitable Foundation Board of Directors chairman said in a statement.
  “On behalf of the entire region, we are very appreciative of Wyndham Worldwide’s continued support and the stability it provides our PGA TOUR event. Steve Holmes, Franz Hanning, Geoff Ballotti, Eric Danziger and the many wonderful people from Wyndham Worldwide are such fun to work with and have become great friends. We couldn't ask for better partners in our quest to make the Wyndham Championship A++ in every way.”

   The 2011 event will be played Aug. 15-21 with Arjun Atwal defending his championship. Another solid field, including Vijay Singh, Lucas Glover, Paul Casey and others is lined up.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Tiger Adds PGA Championship To Schedule

   Following on the announcement that he will play in the WGC event next week at Firestone -- where he's won seven times -- Tiger Woods has also committed to play in the PGA Championship.

   As for the Wyndham Championship in Greensboro, well, that's still a stretch.

   I'll admit to being surprised when I heard Woods was coming back next week, especially since a day earlier his swing coach, Sean Foley, said he hadn't seen his star pupil in a while. There had been photos of Woods with his kids on his boat but there was no hint golf was around the corner.

   Woods said he would let the doctors tell him when he could play again so it's fair to assume he's good to go. But there's a difference in being healthy and being fully ready to play.

   What to expect from Woods next week?

   He conditioned us to expect brilliance but he'll be a curiosity at Firestone. Other than nine holes at The Players Championship three months ago, he's been invisible, fired his caddie and had more questions raised about whether he can be Tiger Woods again on the course.

   He's 133rd in FedEx Cup points right now which means he isn't currently eligible for the playoffs. That's not to say he puts great emphasis on the playoffs but if he feels well enough to play, he needs to be eligible for a series of strong events.

   For weeks, we've been waiting and wondering when we'd see Tiger again. The waiting is almost over. But the wondering...

Monday, July 25, 2011

Grobe Has His Moment At Pinehurst No. 2

  Wake Forest football coach Jim Grobe is a 13-handicapper whose best score on the golf course was 75.

   Until Sunday.

   That's when Grobe, in Pinehurst for the ACC's annual preseason football kickoff gathering, shot 1-under par 71 on Pinehurst No. 2.

   Grobe joked that he would tell his athletic director, Ron Wellman, it was a nine-hole score but it wasn't. Grobe played with some bowl representatives and the only gimme he got was a two-footer his playing partners knocked back to him.

  Asked which was the bigger thrill, leading Wake Forest to an ACC title and Orange Bowl appearance or breaking par on No. 2, Grobe naturally chose the football achievement.

  Still, it was quite a golf achievement for the dean of ACC football coaches.

   "We've got a better shot of winning the league than of me doing that," Grobe said.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tiger and Stevie: Perfect fit in a now-imperfect world

   If you're keeping a ledger on the Tiger Woods saga, it became necessary Wednesday to add caddie Steve Williams' name to the cuts, departures, changes or whatever you want to call all the things that were once part of Tiger's world and are no longer.

   Add Williams to a list that includes Woods' former wife, Elin, his former swing coach Hank Haney, his former sponsors including Accenture, Tag Heuer and Gatorade, his former management company IMG, and now, his former caddie.

   Was it inevitable that Woods and Williams would part?

   Obviously, it was since Woods told Stevie two weeks ago that he could turn his part-time gig with Adam Scott into a full-time job. Williams said in a statement the move was "a shock" and later said in various interviews that he expected more from Woods given what he'd been forced to deal with as his employer embarrassed himself, and the endless aftermath that followed.

   Woods and Williams seemed a perfect fit. Williams was the tough guy on Tiger's bag, an enforcer of sorts who often had to play that role given the enormous attention Woods draws every time he steps onto a golf course. Williams wasn't concerned with winning friends, but about winning tournaments and doing his job properly.

   A player-caddie relationship can be a delicate thing. Some players churn through caddies, their personal quirks or insecurities rubbing against each other to add to the pressure that comes with playing the game for a living. Others find a partnership that goes on for years, like Phil Mickelson and Jim "Bones" Mackay or Fred Couples and Joe LaCava.

   Williams helped Woods through the years. He didn't hit the shots but he was there every step of the way, whether it was during the Tiger Slam or when he gave Woods a shoulder to cry on after winning the Open Championship following his father's death. Stevie had the authority to call Woods off a shot at the last second, an authority he used from time to time.

   Williams will be fine with Scott and, perhaps, happier to be out from under the umbrella of scrutiny that follows Wood wherever he goes.

   As for Woods himself, the questions remain. Who's next on his bag?

   The speculation immediately ran to Billy Foster, Lee Westwood's man, and LaCava, who's now working for Dustin Johnson. Given Woods' penchant for privacy, he's not likely to drop any public clues on his plans until they're announced on his website.

    Though he hasn't been able to play and there's no indication when he'll be back, the Tiger story continues to churn. Woods has kept to himself, offering only a glimpse or two such as his recent appearance at the AT&T National press conference.

   It has never been Woods' way to go public with what he's thinking beyond the basic "I'm here to win" golf tournament quotes. It's not his nature and that's not likely to change.

   For years, all the talk was about what Tiger had achieved. Now, it's about all he has lost.

   Until he returns and wins again -- something I believe he'll do because he will be incredibly driven to prove his detractors wrong -- that's not going to change.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Tiger, Stevie Split; "Came As A Shock," Caddie Says

   Tiger Woods announced today that Steve Williams is no longer his caddie, ending their long relationship.

    The news, announced on Woods' website, didn't come as a complete surprise given Williams' recent working relationship with Adam Scott but it's another major change in Woods' career. Woods said he feels it's time for a change.

   "I want to express my deepest gratitude to Stevie for all his help, but i think it's time for a change," Woods said on his website. "Stevie is an outstanding caddie and a friend and has been instrumental in many of my accomplishments. I wish him great success in the future."

   Woods did not say who will be his caddie in the future when he returns to competitive golf. Woods has not played since withdrawing from The Players Championship in May while dealing with knee and Achilles issues. He has not indicated when he will return to the PGA Tour.

   With Woods sidelined, Williams began working for Scott at the U.S. Open last month and has stayed with the Australian star. He was surprised by the split with Woods.

   "Following the completion of the AT&T National (two weeks ago), I am no longer caddying for Tiger after he informed me that he needed to make a change," Williams said in a statement on his own website.

   "After 13 years of loyal service needless to say this came as a shock. Given the circumstances of the past 18 months working through Tiger's scandal, a new coach and with it a major swing change and Tiger battling through injuries, I am very disappointed to end our very successful partnership at this time.

   "I have had the opportunity to work with Australian Adam Scott and will now caddy for him on a permanent basis."

Pinehurst Unveils New Logos For 2014 Opens

    It's still almost three years away but the unprecedented back-to-back U.S. Opens at Pinehurst Resort in 2014 already have their own look.

   The resort recently unveiled three logos -- one for the men's Open, one for the Women's Open, and one for both Opens -- that are now available on merchandise at the resort. It's all part of branding the event, which is certain to attract plenty of attention when first the men and then women play their national championships at the restored No. 2.

   The men's logo features the familiar Golf Lad hugging the U.S. Open trophy while the Women's Open logo features a cardinal and the Carolina Hotel.

   The dual logo features both trophies along with the Golf Lad's hat and the cardinal. It won't be long until you start seeing the logos on shirts and other items.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Simpson Heading Home On A High

   SANDWICH, England -- Not entirely sure what he would need in his first Open Championship experience, Webb Simpson packed three suitcases for his weeklong stay alongside the English Channel.

   He also brought his wife, Dowd, their five-month old son, James, and a friend to stay in the house he rented in town.

   Simpson left Royal St. George's and the Open Sunday evening with a top-20 finish and a deeper appreciation for the different style of golf demanded by true links.

   "Overall, it was a great experience," said Simpson, who shot 73 on Sunday to finish at 5-over par 285. "I realized how much there is to learn.

   "But it's fun golf. It was a battle the last two days. I must have taken my rain jacket on and off 10 times (Sunday) but I'm pleased."

S   impson said it struck him that he wasn't eligible for the Arnold Palmer Invitational on the PGA Tour in March but now he's played in two major championships, making the cut in both. He's also 11th on the PGA Tour money list and points standings with the playoffs approaching.

  The week at St. George's did nothing to hurt Simpson's confidence.

   There are still some things Simpson needs to learn for his return trip to the Open Championship. He didn't drive while in England.

   "I was a little too scared to do that," Simpson said. "I felt like everybody would get sideswiped."

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Johnson, Fowler Playing For Old Glory And Their Own Glory

   In a golf sense, Northern Ireland is kicking the United States' collective rear end.

   Last year, Graeme McDowell won the U.S. Open. This year, Rory McIlroy did it. That makes it Ulstermen 2, Uncle Sam 0.

    But with 18 holes remaining in the Open Championship at Royal St. George's, Americans have a chance to win their first major championship since Phil Mickelson picked up his third green jacket 15 months ago at Augusta National.

   There are 10 Americans among the top 16 in the Open. That's the good news.

    The bad news is third-round leader Darren Clarke is from Northern Ireland, too. Same song. Different verse.

    But the U.S. has two of its best players -- Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler -- sitting right behind Clarke. We keep talking and hearing about how much promise they have. Now it's time for one of them to deliver.

    Johnson starts one back of Clarke and seems the most capable of doing something spectacular on Sunday given his length and his famliarity with final-round major championship pressure. This will be the third time in the last six majors that Johnson has played in the final pairing on Sunday.

   He's been fighting a sore throat this week but he's gradually feeling better. He's also stayed largely under the radar. Can he win?


   So can Fowler, who has seemed at home at St. George's. He played beautifully Saturday in the wind and rain. He hasn't won yet, which raises questions but Fowler seems like a big-moment player. Look at the Ryder Cup last year.

   It may not matter what either Johnson or Fowler does in the final round. Clarke may play better than either of them. So might Miguel Angel Jimenez, Thomas Bjorn or someone else.

    But if they're all we've been saying they are, one of them can prove it on Sunday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Simpson Struggles In Second Round, Still Likes His Position

   Webb Simpson walked off Royal St. George's golf course early Friday afternoon, having just posted a 4-over 74 in the second round that didn't seem all that different from the 66 he shot a day earlier.

   Still, Simpson had fallen from one shot off the lead to four behind when he finished with half the field still on the course.

   "I played hardly any different," Simpson said. "It was one of those days where if we were between clubs, we always chose the wrong one or we figured the wind wrong. It was just frustrating because it felt like I played good."

   A day after playing a bogey-free round, Simpson failed to make a birdie in the second round despite sunny conditions with manageable wind. His big mistake came at the par-4 fourth hole where he made a double-bogey after hitting his drive into heavy rough. He played his second back to the fairway, missed the green from relatively short range with his third and missed a seven-foot bogey putt.

   "We (caddie Paul Tesori) were talking on the 18th hole and decided we're not going to change anything for Saturday," Simpson said. "We're still in a great place."

   As for predictions for strong wind and potentially heavy rain on Saturday, Simpson was undaunted.

   "I don't mind it," he said. "I feel like I stay patient pretty well. Then again, it was perfect (Thursday) and I played really well."

The Big Yellow Scoreboard, An Open Tradition

   One of the many cool things about the Open Championship is the giant yellow scoreboard that stands sentry over the 18th gren at whereever the event is played, a landmark as familiar to golf fans as the Hogan bridge on the 12th hole at Augusta National.

   It's a testament to tradition rather than technology, its information passed by hand through letters and numbers, rather than via LED readouts. The closest thing to new technology on the big board is a Rolex clock that gives the time in the timeless manner that only a Rolex can.

   The leader board is posted by hand, which means it takes a few moments to rearrange things when someone runs up or down the board. Not only does it post where the leaders stand against par, it tells fans how many holes they've played in the tournament rather than in their round. Lucas Glover, for example, was 4-under par through 34 holes Friday then safely parred in to saty there.

   It lists the pairing currently playing the hole and the next pairing in case you've dropped your pairing sheet while traipsing through the dunes.

   And, at the end of each Open, there's a message congrulating the champion golfer of the year and promising to see everyone again next year, which in 2012 means Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Not everyone at Royal St. George's will be back for the championship next year but the big yellow scoreboard will be there.

  Like always.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Royal St. George's Turning Into Clemson Country

   Standing on the 14th tee at Royal St. George's Thursday afternoon, Lucas Glover and playing partner Robert Karlsson looked at each other and asked the same question:

   Where had the wind gone?

   The breeze that had given the Open Championship its bite died in the afternoon and Glover was among the players to take advantage, birdieing the last three holes to shoot a 4-under par 66 that left him one stroke behind co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and amateur Tom Lewis.

   "It's good," Glover, the former Clemson golfer and reigning Wells Fargo Championship winner, said of his leap up the leader board. "It's where you want to be but you want to be there on Sunday. We've got three more days to do it."

   With virtually no wind as Glover finished, he was able to be aggressive going into the greens, setting up a three-foot birdie putt at No. 16; a two-footer at the 17th; and, a 16-footer at the finishing hole.

  "Overall solid and then some fireworks at the end," Glover said of his day.

   Another former Tiger, Kyle Stanley wasn't in the Open until he finished solo second last week at the John Deere Classic, earning him a spot in the field at St. George's and a seat on the charter flight to England.

   The 23-year old tour rookie was smart enough to have packed his passport when he went to Illinois last week but didn't pack his warm clothes for the English summer. He was forced to hit the club pro shop to buy a long-sleeve turtleneck and he's taken advantage of the laundry service at the bed and breakfast where he's staying in nearby Dover to have clean clothes.

   Other than a 2007 Walker Cup appearance in Northern Ireland and a trip to Bandon Dunes in Oregon, Stanley has no real links experience.

   Stanley had made 15 of 20 cuts this season and he's playing his best golf of the year since Bobby Brown, Dustin Johnson's former caddie, went to work for him in June. He has let Brown set his practice schedule -- even on off weeks -- and the focus has been on Stanley's short game and putting.

   "I've made a lot of cuts this year but I hadn't put four good rounds together until last week," Stanley said. "I'm just trying to keep learning and keep getting better. I really, really care about what I do out on the course. Sometimes, I care to a fault."

At Sandwich, A Big Event In A Small Place

   If you're wondering precisely where this Open Championship is being played, it's where one extremely narrow road feeds into another extremely narrow road on the edge of Sandwich, just a wind-blown tee shot from the tiny town of Deal.

   The course -- Royal St. George's -- sits alongside the English Channel but you can't see the water from the course because they were forced to build a seawall that blocks the view but, fortunately, keeps the highest tides from overrunning the place. The course is the middle of three lined up along the Channel with Royal Cinque Ports to the south and Princes to the north, each of them close enough to the other that Walter Hagen once played all three -- walking -- in the same day.

    Cinque Ports, I can say from experience, is a tremendous links that, with a couple hundred yards added to the front nine, could host an Open championship. It's that good.

   The Royal & Ancient, which determines where Open Championships are played, is reluctant to add to its nine-course rotation but there's a movement afoot to add Royal Portrush or Royal County Down in Northern Ireland. They are, by all accounts, two of the great tracks in the world but the R&A is concerned about access, pointing to a lack of roads around Portrush as a problem.

   They obviously haven't driven the cart paths, I mean roads, around St. George's where two-way traffic is impossible for anything but bicycles. It's charming, weaving among the homes and shops that sit so close to the road that you could swipe a scone as you pass, but if they can hold an Open at St. George's, taking one to the edge of Belfast shouldn't be a problem.

   Among the things St. George's has that other sites don't is an abandoned power plant, currently being decsonstructed, with three enormous cooling towers looming in the distance like that hill in 'Close Encounters Of The Third Kind.' There's also a Pfizer pharmaceutical factory where they are thought to make popular blue pills just a mile from the course.

   It's where the old world and the new one meet.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Getting Fleeced At The Open Championship

   I know that it's miserably hot in Charlotte right now -- it is the middle of July after all -- but it's a little brisk here at the Open Championship at Royal St. George's.

   You're looking for air-conditioning. I'm looking for fleece.

   It's about 60 degrees, the sky is the color of 70-year old hair and the wind is blowing white caps on the English Channel. In other words, perfect for the Open Championship.

   It's tomato sandwich season at home. It's tomato soup season here.

  That's the way it's supposed to be when the golf world convenes for the Open. Augusta does azaleas. The U.S. Open does rough. The Open Championship does weather.

   There's something almost glamorous about the wind and the clouds and the chill, especially if you're not trying to hit a fairway that moves like a Slinky. The Open Championship does many things but it doesn't do sweat stains.

   That's not to say it can't get warm here. It can get toasty but clouds are never far away, promising a respite from the sunshine.

    In playing golf over here, I've learned that it's okay to wear shorts but not the little ankle socks that are part of most American golf ensembles. Two clubs I've visited require golfers who wear shorts to also wear knee socks similar to the type required for girls at some private schools.

   Perhaps that's why so few of the locals play golf in shorts. That and the fear of a suntan.

   Good thing I left my shorts in Charlotte. I needed the sweatshirts instead.



Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Five Favorite Golf Events

   Having made another journey to the British Open this week -- it's become something of a summer present to myself -- it got me to thinking about my favorite golf events, and I'm not talking about the occasional birdie I make.

   Here are my five favorites:

  1. The Masters

    No surprise here. It's the best golf tournament in the world when you roll everything together -- the course, the history, the time of year, the feeling, the pimento cheese sandwiches and the green jackets. It's special enough that even non-golfers take a few minutes to look in on the azaleas in April.

   Almost without fail, the Masters finds a way to generate drama like no other tournament can consistently do. In the dead of summer, it makes me wish for the yellow sheen of pine pollen, Phil Mickelson going at the 13th green with his second shot and those big white hand-operated scoreboards that are better than anything computer-generated.

 2. The Ryder Cup

   Because it happens only every other year, it allows the storyline to twist and build until we all make more of it than we probably should but it still manages to deliver spectacular stories.

   Golf is a solitary pursuit but put into a team concept with flags and continental pride at stake, it matters like nothing else.

   And every decade or so, the Americans win.

3. The Open Championship

   Growing up, watching the slightly fuzzy television images from the Open Championship, it seemed so romantic -- in a golf kind of way. The wind, the knee-high fescue, the funny bounces, the dunes, the shots of the sea, the sweaters -- all of it captured my imagination and holds on to it today.

   It's probably the most important tournament in the world outside the United States and given our current standing in the world game, it only enhances the Open's stature.

   When it's played at the Old Course, it's magic -- even when Louis Oosthuizen wins by about 25 shots. When it's played somewhere else, even at Royal St. George's which hasn't inspired the poet's soul in many historians, it's a week that feels as different it looks to most of us.

  4. The Wells Fargo Championship

   A decade ago, we didn't have a PGA Tour event in Charlotte. Now people are fretting over what could happen if it's not renewed after the current contract expires in 2014. It's become special which many things try to be but few actually are.

   The annual springtime week at Quail Hollow Club has created its own niche in both Charlotte and in professional golf. It's our good fortune to have it in our city.

  5. The Heritage

    Rory McIlroy's victory at the U.S. Open may be the biggest win on the PGA Tour this year but landing a five-year title sponsorship agreement with RBC and Boeing to keep the tournament alive at Harbour Town Golf Links is on the list of biggest victories in 2011.

   It's a golf tournament scented with springtime, sunscreen and the good life. You're likely to see a gator sunning along a fairway and you might see Ernie Els riding bikes with his family around the island. It's a cocktail party with a golf tournament in the middle, all of it framed by Spanish moss and the Calibogue Sound. 


Thursday, July 07, 2011

Free Golf At Cheraw State Park On July 16

   Looking to play free golf on a good course with no strings attached?

   Here's your chance.

   Cheraw (S.C.) State Park is offering free golf and cart fees on its championship course on Saturday, July 16 to the first 60 players who sign up.

   It's a 90-minute drive from Charlotte and reservations must be made in advance. The cost is typically $35 per player which means a saving of $140 for a foursome.

   The course, which has a good reputation, plays 6,928 yards from the back tees with a slope rating of 130.

   There will also be a TaylorMade demo day at the course on July 16 and other discounts available in the pro shop and grill.

   Reservations can be made by calling 800-868-9630. Only one foursome per caller can be reserved and the spots are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tee times are available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Big Three Together Again: Player Joins Jack, Arnie At Augusta

   The 'Big Three' will be back together on the first tee at Augusta National next April.

   Gary Player has accepted an invitation to join Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus as an honorary starter for the Masters tournament beginning in 2012.

   “For decades, Gary Player has been the international ambassador for the game of golf,” club chairman Billy Payne in a statement. “His significant accomplishments at the Masters, spread over an astounding 52 appearances, have helped form many lasting memories for fans of golf around the world. As an Honorary Starter, his legacy will be rightfully celebrated alongside two of the Tournament’s other all-time greats, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.”

   Player's inclusion into the select group comes as no surprise. He played in 52 Masters -- the most ever -- and his relationship with Nicklaus and Palmer made the pairing a natural. Player won three Masters and had 12 additional top 10 finishes.

   “I am thrilled to join my friends Jack and Arnold as an Honorary Starter,” Player said. “Augusta National is a special place that holds many memories for me. When I won my first Green Jacket in 1961, Arnold put it on my back. In 1962, Arnold beat me in an 18-hole playoff to win his second in three years. The year after my second win in 1974, Jack became the second man at the time to ever win four Masters. I was there to put the Green Jacket on both of them. Moments like those are so special and to be able to experience those memories with friends and competitors is something I will never forget.”

   In one stretch -- from 1960 through 1966 -- Palmer, Nicklaus and Player won all seven Masters.

No Surprise: Woods Out Of British Open

   It came as no surprise today that Tiger Woods announced he will miss the British Open next week while continuing to deal with knee and Achilles issues.

   "Unfortunately, I've been advised that I should not play in the British Open," Woods said in a statement on his website. "As I stated at the AT&T National, I am only going to come back when I'm 100 percent ready. I do not want to risk further injury. That's different for me, but I'm being smarter this time. I'm very disappointed and want to express my regrets to the British Open fans."

   It wasn't long ago we were talking about how dominant Woods might be when he reached his expected prime -- in his mid-30s -- but now it's all a mystery. Woods was right last week when he stressed that he's just 35, not 65, but it seems like forever since he's been the Tiger we came to know and take for granted.

   Will he back for the PGA Championship next month in Atlanta?

   Only time will tell.