Hard Work Destiny for Masters Champ

By Associated PressApril 4, 2005, 4:00 pm
Destiny always seems to be the 15th club in the bag of a Masters champion.
No one can explain how a tuft of grass kept Fred Couples' ball from rolling into Rae's Creek on the par-3 12th in the final round of 1992. Ben Crenshaw felt the hand of Harvey Penick, who died the week before, guiding him around the back nine when he won the 1995 Masters. Tom Kite still doesn't understand how his birdie putt stayed out of the cup in 1986, allowing Jack Nicklaus a record sixth green jacket.
Phil Mickelson felt destiny was on his side last year at the Masters.
With 18 feet separating him from that elusive major championship, Mickelson's birdie putt on the 18th hole last year looked good until the final few feet, when it started to turn left to the corner of the cup.
The final few inches are still a blur. The ball caught the left lip of the cup, slid quickly around to the right side and suddenly disappeared, setting off an explosion of cheers for a Masters victory that was long overdue.
Most people will never forget the leap, such as it was.
With both arms in the air, Mickelson jumped for joy, an estimated 13 inches off the ground. President Bush poked fun at his vertical leap, and Lefty jokingly says the cameras didn't do him justice.
'I will take to my grave my belief that the cameras just did not catch me at the apex of my jump,' he said.
But as he looks back on a putt heard 'round the world, Mickelson believes he had some help.
For each of his first 21 victories on the PGA Tour, Mickelson gave his grandfather, Al Santos, the flag from the 18th hole. But after the 2002 Greater Hartford Open, Santos lost interest.
'Don't bring me any more flags unless it's for a major,' his grandfather told him. 'I want the Masters up there.'
Santos died three months before his grandson finally won a major.
'In the first split-second of that moment, I really believe that my grandfather nudged my ball back to the right just in the nick of time,' Mickelson writes in his book, 'One Magical Sunday (But Winning Isn't Everything).'
There were other factors at work.
Mickelson got the perfect read from Chris DiMarco, whose Masters hopes already had faded. He took two shots to get out of the bunker on No. 18, and the second one trickled an inch beyond Mickelson's marker.
They are good friends, and some wondered if DiMarco hit it there on purpose.
'Yeah, right,' DiMarco says. 'If I could have put it that close to his mark, why didn't I hit it that close to the hole?'
As he lined up his putt, Mickelson told him, 'Show me the way.'
'That was the only putt I really felt nervous on all day -- I mean really, really nervous,' DiMarco said. 'Because I knew if I didn't put a good putt on it, it was not going to show him anything. I knew he was going to make it. I might have been the only one. But I knew it was his time.
'He did it, and it was awesome.'
Mike Weir, the defending champion who slipped the size 43-long green jacket over Mickelson's shoulders at the award ceremony, offered a telling comment about destiny in an interview with Golf World magazine.
'At Augusta, your putts have to go in the center of the hole if you expect to make them,' Weir said. 'You don't see many putts catch the lip and go in, especially on the low side. This one lipped back and went in, and that never happens.
'Low side, breaking away -- you're meant to win when those things happen.'
Destiny? Maybe.
But no Masters champion ever stumbles into a green jacket without awesome skill and hard work. And that's why Mickelson believes he'll get plenty more chances to win the Masters over the next several years.
The guy who went 12 years without a major -- and with only three close calls during that pursuit -- found a routine last year that not only brought him the Masters, but nearly the Grand Slam.
Only a three-putt double bogey on the 71st hole kept him from the U.S. Open title. Playing for par when everyone around him was making birdies left him one shot out of a playoff at the British Open. And he was poised to win the PGA Championship until he couldn't make enough putts on the back nine at Whistling Straits.
To see Mickelson prepare for major events is exhausting.
He already has spent three days at Augusta National heading into this year's Masters, studying every conceivable angle around the greens, every blade of grass to understand where a putt might break.
At the Ryder Cup last year, it took Mickelson nearly nine hours to get through a practice round at Oakland Hills. Arriving at each hole, his caddie placed tiny flags around the green and Mickelson methodically made his way to each one of them, chipping out of the rough to imaginary holes on the green.
The man known as 'Genius' on tour is thinking overtime about his major preparation.
Mickelson is on a similar path as last year, starting strong to build momentum into the Masters. He won the FBR Open in Phoenix with a 60 in the second round. He went wire-to-wire at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, starting with a course-record 62 on Spyglass Hill, one of the toughest tracks in Northern California.
He was poised for a huge victory at Doral until Tiger Woods caught him on the back nine Sunday, winning only after Mickelson's chip from just off the green somehow grazed the edge instead of falling for birdie.
He looks forward to driving down Magnolia Lane as the defending champion, knowing he can return for the Masters the rest of his life. He won't have to sit through the same questions -- 'Is this the year you win a major?' -- at his news conference. He knows he is capable of winning every major he plays.
And he can't wait to get started.
'I have committed myself for the next six years, until I'm 40, to unquestioningly play as hard and practice as hard as I can, and try to get as much out of this game and my career as I possibly can,' Mickelson said.
And having destiny on his side never hurts.
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  • Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

    By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

    Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

    With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

    Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

    The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

    Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

    In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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    Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

    By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

    After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

     There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

    It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

    It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

    “The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

    In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

    Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

    Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

    “You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

    Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

    Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

    If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

    For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

    Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

    Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

    While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

    When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

    Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

    After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

    The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

    That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

    The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

    While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

    Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

    Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

    “We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

    The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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    Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

    By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

    John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

    That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

    Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

    Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

    By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

    Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

    Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

    Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

    World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

    Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.