US Dominance Just Wait

By Adam BarrNovember 16, 2004, 5:00 pm
2004 UBS CupTake this test to see if youre a real golfer (or golf fan): When you drive by a course and see an undulating swath of velvety fairway leading to a slightly elevated green capped by a wind-whipped flag, does your pulse quicken?
Of course it does. And as one of The Initiated, you understand that that fairway, which looks like a carpet rumpled in the night by a mischievous giant, can cause dozens of crazy bounces. And somewhere within the driving zone is a speed slot ' which, if you hit your ball there, will fling a ball an extra 20 yards to the good ' and inches to the left of that, a shortcut to a stroke-sucking bunker.
Such is golf, and what seems unfairness to some is really the excitement of randomness to others. The games immutable relationship with fate also works against domination and dynasties. So if you expect the United States to continue to dominate in the UBS Cup, just wait ' all good things (or bad, if youre a Rest of the World fan) must come to an end, or at least a turning point.
In the first three Cups, U.S. players in the over-40 crowd have stepped up big. Hale Irwins overall record is 5 points. Scott Hoch is 4-3-2 since the Cups began in 2001, and Raymond Floyd is 4-2-3. Both Tom Lehman and 2004 Ryder Cup captain Hal Sutton are each undefeated at 3-0-0.
Nine U.S. players have won more matches than they have lost in the first three cups. Seven Rest-of-the-World players have done that, most notably Nick Faldo (6-2-1), 3004 captain Gary Player (4-2-0) and Des Smyth (4-1-1).
So what the U.S. has isnt quite a dynasty ' yet. Clearly, there have been some red, white and blue bounces on those undulating fairways. But as any golfer or golf fan knows, things could go the other way rapidly.
And thats what makes the game interesting every time you tee it up. Just as the Ryder Cup became a pressure cooker after years of U.S. ownership, just as Vijay Singh surpassed the incredible Tiger Woods in the World Golf Rankings this year, golfs only constant is change.
It stands to reason when you consider the personnel in the 2004 UBS Cup. On both sides, youve got a bunch of gamers, perfect gentlemen on the outside burning with competitive fires within.
As he showed us in the Ryder Cup, Colin Montgomerie can handle match play. Critics have dogged Monty for his lackluster records in big stroke play events in the U.S., but something about mano a mano makes the blood of his Scottish golf ancestors run hot through Montgomeries veins. Monty paired with 2004 European Ryder Cup captain Bernhard Langer to take down Raymond Floyd and Hale Irwin 5 and 3 in a foursomes match in the 2003 UBS Cup, a feat of giant-killing proportions in the golf world.
Watch out for Langer too, and for former Ryder Cup captain Sam Torrance. Each has a solid body of work in match play, and neither is likely to be an easy opponent. (Trust me; Hale Irwins 7-and-5 drubbing of Langer in the singles matches in the 2003 Cup was an anomaly. In the 2001 Cup, the best Irwin could manage against Langer was a half.)
Thats the key to both teams ' seasoning. Experience rests on the shoulders of all the UBS players, and that adds a special luster to the matches. Consider some of their accomplishments: Five British Open championships for Tom Watson. Two Masters for Langer. A stunning opening season on the Champions Tour for Craig Stadler. Fifty-five wins worldwide for Mark McNulty. All the UBS players long ago graduated from being able to fit their playing resumes on one page.
And dont forget the effect of this years playing captains. Not a golfer alive can bear the thought of disappointing either U.S. captain Arnold Palmer or Rest-of-the-World captain Gary Player, two of the games reigning elder statesmen. Age has not dampened their competitive infernos, so expect the younger set to play hard to please their skippers.
So what really dominates at the UBS Cup is not one team or the other ' but rather the unalloyed spirit of match play, done right by the seasoned experts. Thats not a knock on youth, just a realization that the greatest of games rewards experience as richly as it does muscle flexibility.
It would take a few more wins for the United States to claim real dominance. The real fun this year will be in watching the Rest of the World try to make a non-issue of it.
Related Links:
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    McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

    By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

    Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

    McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

    Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

    McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

    Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

    “That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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    Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

    By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

    KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

    The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

    Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

    ''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

    Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

    First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

    ''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

    David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

    Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

    The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

    ''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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    The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

    By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

    Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

    Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

    I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

    One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

    So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

    You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

    Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

    I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

    This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

    Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

    On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

    The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

    “What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

    Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

    Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

    Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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    Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

    Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

    Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

    In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

    Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

    After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

    Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.