Baird has company in long-time futility

By Al TaysNovember 11, 2013, 6:00 am

Watching Briny Baird stumble at another finish line on Sunday was painful to watch. Not as painful as it must have been for Baird, but painful nonetheless. As I watched Baird gamely submit to a TV interview, his laughter while talking to Golf Channel's Steve Burkowski only reminded me of the old blues lyric "I'm laughing just to keep from crying."

"This hurts. It really does. This is very disappointing," Baird said after making a final-hole bogey (which could have been worse had he not sunk a long putt) to lose the McGladrey Classic by a stroke to Chris Kirk.

I found myself wondering, who are the other Briny Bairds? Who are the athletes in other sports who have toiled the longest without ever experiencing the "thrill of victory," who have endured the same pain Baird has.

That's not an easy question to answer, even with the magic of Google. The Internet is rife with success-oriented records. But failure? Fail.

Oh, there's no shortage of examples of team failure. It's the usual suspects: Boston Red Sox, 1918-2004; Chicago Cubs, 1908-present; Dallas Cowboys, 1960; Tampa Bay Bucs, 1976; Detroit Lions, 2008. Those last three NFL teams went winless, but only for one season. And while the Red Sox and Cubs experienced long droughts between World Series titles, they did win division championships and pennants along the way.

Plus, you can't equate losing as a team to losing as an individual. As an individual, there's no "company" to share your "misery."

There are two ways to look at winning and losing in individual sports. A golfer who finishes second can be thought to have lost the tournament, if only because he didn't win it. On the other hand, he did beat 142 players in a 144-player field. That kind of result is often praised by references to such made-up statistics as "top-five finishes." But second place is derided by some as being "the first loser." For everyone who says "great effort," someone else responds with "nice choke."

Still, as Baird, who has earned more than $13 million while playing 365 PGA Tour events without winning, can attest, you don't have to be a winner to make a good living in golf.

Anyway, here are some other athletes who have experienced Baird-like droughts:

Anna Kournikova, women’s tennis: The photogenic Russian was much better known for her figure than her figures, although by no means was she an untalented player. Between 1994 and 2003 she played in 132 Women’s Tennis Association-sponsored events without winning (she did win two International Tennis Federation tournaments). She retired from full-time competition at age 21 in part because of lingering back injuries. Leaving competitive tennis had no effect on her fame, however; she remained the world’s most searched athlete on the Internet for several more years.

Julien Benneteau, men’s tennis: The Frenchman, 0-for-228 on the ATP Tour, is sometimes named as the best men’s tennis player never to have won a tournament. Not that he hasn’t had chances – he is 0-for-9 in finals.

Bobby Wadkins, PGA Tour: Lanny Wadkins' younger brother played 713 PGA Tour events between 1975 and 1998 without a win. But he wasted no time shedding his nonwinner label when he got to the Champions Tour, becoming its youngest winner by claiming the Lightpath Long Island Classic 10 days after he turned 50.

J.D. McDuffie, NASCAR: Holds the record for most starts, 653, in NASCAR's top division, currently known as Sprint Cup, without a win. McDuffie raced from 1963 to 1991, collecting 106 top-10 finishes. He died at age 52 in a racing accident at Watkins Glen International in 1991.

Dave Blaney, NASCAR: Blaney is currently the active driver with the most starts without a win, 465.

Andrea de Cesaris, Formula One: Between 1980 and 1994 the Italian driver made 208 starts without winning, still the F1 record. Several wrecks early in his career earned him the unfortunate nickname "Andrea de Crasheris." In 1982 he had a good chance to win the Grand Prix of Monaco, but ran out of fuel on the last lap.

Zippy Chippy, thoroughbred racing: Though his bloodline includes some of horse racing's greatest names, including Man 'o War, Zippy Chippy somehow turned out to be speed-challenged. Foaled in 1991, the New York-bred gelding went on to lose all of his 100 races before being retired in 2004. He did have two wins, but neither counted. One was against a minor-league baseball player in a 120-foot race, the other against a harness-racing horse. Other horses have had longer winless careers, most notably Dona Chepa, a Puerto Rican mare who went 0 for 125 between 2001 and 2007, but none was as well known as Zippy Chippy.

Perhaps Baird, one of the nicest guys on Tour, can draw inspiration from these athletes who finally broke through to win after years of struggle:

Carolyn Hill, LPGA: Went 359 starts before getting her first win, the 1994 McCall’s LPGA Classic at Stratton Mountain (Vt.).

Jill McGill, LPGA: Still active, with an 0-for-360 streak.

Ben Smith, Champions Tour: Winless in 414 starts.

Michael Waltrip, NASCAR: His 0-for-462 streak was worth the wait when he won the 2001 Daytona 500, NASCAR's most prestigious race. His victory was nearly forgotten, however, because that was the race in which Dale Earnhardt was killed. Waltrip went on to win three more times, including the 2003 Daytona 500.

In the immediate aftermath of his sixth runner-up finish, Baird noted how difficult it is to look on the bright side. "You've got to take away some silver linings," he told Golf Channel's Burkowski, but when asked what those silver linings are, Baird said, "I put myself right there in a great position, and ..." Then he laughed a rueful laugh and added, "I don't know what else I learned."

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.