Notes Els Swings Over to Harmon

By Associated PressApril 8, 2008, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Ernie Els hated making the phone call. Still, he felt a coaching change was the only way to make some needed improvements in his game.
 
After working with David Leadbetter since 1990, the Big Easy said Tuesday he switched to Butch Harmon as his swing coach because he wanted to get a different feel, get different words coming toward me.
 
The timing of the move was somewhat curious, because Els won the Honda Classic just over a month ago. But he decided Harmon could help smooth out some of the rough spots in his swing heading into the first major of the year, the Masters.
 
Hes obviously had a lot of success with a lot of players, and I love the way he changes peoples games, Els said after a practice round at Augusta National. Ive seen it with Stewart Cink and Ive seen it with Justin Leonard and a lot of other players. I like the way they swing.
 
But to sign on with Harmon, Els had to make the difficult step of breaking up with Leadbetter, who helped craft a swing that won two U.S. Opens and a British Open. The news was delivered in an emotional phone call.
 
David Leadbetter is a very good friend of mine. Hes been a friend of mine for a very long time, Els said. Obviously its tough breaking up with a guy like Lead, but hell be a friend of mine forever.
 
Asked what he was looking to change, Els pointed to improving his posture, shortening his backswing and getting the upper and lower parts of his body more in rhythm.
 
My hips were really turning too much and my shoulder, everything was kind of collapsing at the top, he said. Im quite a flexible guy, but swinging that long, I get out of sync with my lower body and upper, so I needed to stabilize that and shorten my backswing a little bit, and really get the club out in front of me.
 
Els is already starting to notice some improvement, though he concedes its too early in the process to know how much impact it will have at Augusta.
 
Hey, it could go either way, he said. Hopefully I can be right on Thursday and really trust the swing and trust my different moves. Its not stuff thats totally foreign to me. Its going to look like my normal swing. Its just in a little different position.
 
Els had been contemplating a change since late last season. Even after winning the Honda Classic, he stuck with his plan to switch to Harmon, who has worked with everyone from Tiger Woods to Phil Mickelson.
 
Although I won, I still felt I wasnt totally under control of the golf ball, and thats not a great feeling to have, Els said. So I felt, hey, lets start fresh and maybe get a different look and go from there.
 
A TRADITION LIKE NO OTHER:
Phil Mickelson loves to play the Par 3 Contest, feeling the raucous event is a great way to relieve stress on the eve of the real tournament.
 
Tiger Woods? Not such a fan.
 
Its changed over the years, he said. It used to be, I thought it was a lot of fun to play. But now it is a little bit distracting to get ready and be ready for the tournament.
 
The Par 3 Contest, which began in 1960, is one of the Masters quaint traditions, a fun little competition on Wednesday afternoon that allows players to show off their lighter sides. The younger players bring their kids' nothings cuter than seeing a 6-year-old in those white coveralls the caddies wear'and fans love to see the best in the world trying to ace every hole.
 
The kids part is what makes it so appealing to Mickelson, who loves having his three young children tag along.
 
Its a great way to relieve some of the stress or pressure you feel heading into a major, Mickelson said. Guys really have fun on those nine holes and someone like myself, who has little children who caddie, we as parents look back on those pictures and those memories and sharing that time together.
 
Padraig Harrington feels the lighthearted romp actually helps his game heading into the years first major.
 
Even though there is a lot going on, you have to get into your focus over each shot, and it gives you a little bit of practice on your wedge play and the pace of the greens and holing out your 4-footers, he said. I wouldnt want to miss it.
 
Of course, some believe theres a dark side to the fun. Since the Par 3 began in 1960, no ones ever won it and the Masters in the same year, and Vijay Singh is still the only player to get his green jacket after winning the Par 3, in 1994'he took the Masters in 2000.
 
No, Ben Crenshaw doesnt count. His win in the 1987 Par 3 was eight years before the 1995 Masters, but his 1984 Masters title trumps all.
 
Harrington is as superstitious as the next guy, though he does have a little different take.
 
Ill be playing the Par 3 competition and trying to win it again, hoping that three times might be the charm, Harrington, who won the contest in 2003 and 2004. I believe if you win it twice, youre bound to win the actual event.
 
Mickelson doesnt buy the Par 3 jinx.
 
Id love to be the first to win them both, but I have just never had a chance to win the Par 3, he said. My caddie (daughter Sophia Isabel) gave me some terrible reads last year. Of course, she was only 5. But still.
 
TRAFFIC JAM:
Retief Goosen has only one thing on his mind before he tees off at the Masters: Get to the course on time.
 
Goosen rents a house near Augusta National, but he still gets stuck in traffic that overwhelms this rather sleepy Southern city during Masters week.
 
Im about a mile away, he said, and it takes you 45 minutes to get here.
 
ELS/AUTISM:
Ernie Els revealed last month that his 5-year-old son suffers from autism. Since then, the response has been overwhelming.
 
Im not sure what the number of e-mails weve been getting, but its a book, Els said. Its thousands of e-mails.
 
Els and his wife coped privately with their son Bens diagnosis until the Big Easy showed up at a tournament last month with Autism Speaks on his golf bag.
 
A lot of people keep it very private and dont want to talk about it, but if it doesnt get out, nobody really gets aware of this big problem, Els said. Its a serious problem. And its going to affect a lot of people down the line, a lot of young parents, and obviously young kids.
 
Autism is a disorder that impairs a persons ability to communicate and relate to others. Researchers have yet to determine the cause or a cure.
 
Els is glad he spoke out and showed others that no one, no matter how rich or famous, is immune to the problem.
 
We need to get moving forward and working on a cure, he said. Basically, we need to get people to talk about it a little bit more.
 
DIVOTS:
During a lunchtime ceremony at the club, Ping presented Angel Cabrera with an 18-karat gold putter, a replica of the one he used to win the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year. Its worth about $15,000. There are 49 foreign-born players in the tournament, making up more than half the 94-player field. For the second year in a row, Arnold Palmer will hit a ceremonial tee shot Thursday morning to start the tournament. Jose Maria Olazabal looks a little strange in a sport that relies heavily on sponsors to pay the bills. Coming back from an injury, the two-time Masters champion practiced Tuesday with a blank cap and a bag that was devoid of sponsorship logos.
 
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  • Full Coverage - The Masters
  • LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:56 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.

    Parity reigned.

    Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.

    Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.

    Here’s a summary of the big prizes:

    Rolex Player of the Year
    Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.

    It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.


    Vare Trophy
    Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.

    There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.


    CME Globe $1 million prize
    Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.

    By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.


    LPGA money-winning title
    Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.

    The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.

    Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.


    Rolex world No. 1 ranking
    The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.


    Rolex Rookie of the Year
    Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Ko ends first winless season with T-16 at CME

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 1:07 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lydia Ko carved a hybrid 3-iron to 15 feet and ended the most intensely scrutinized year of her young career with a birdie Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    “Nice to finish the season on a high note,” Ko said after posting a 3-under-par 69, good for a tie for 16th. “Obviously, not a top-10 finish, but I played really solid. I feel like I finished the season off pretty strong.”

    Ko posted two second-place finishes, a third-place finish and a tie for fifth in her last eight starts.

    “Ever since Indy [in early September], I played really good and put myself in good positions,” Ko said. “I felt like the confidence factor was definitely higher than during the middle of the year. I had some opportunities, looks for wins.”

    Sunday marked the end of Ko’s first winless season since she began playing LPGA events at 15 years old.

    Let the record show, she left with a smile, eager to travel to South Korea to spend the next month with family after playing a charity event in Bradenton, Fla., on Monday.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Much was made of Ko beginning the year with sweeping changes, with new equipment (PXG), a new coach (Gary Gilchrist) and a new caddie (Peter Godfrey).

    In the final summary, it wasn’t a Ko-like year, not by the crazy high standards she has set.

    She saw her run of 85 consecutive weeks at No. 1 end in June. She arrived in Naples holding on to the No. 8 ranking. She ends the year 13th on the LPGA money list with $1,177,450 in earnings. It’s the first time she hasn’t finished among the top three in money in her four full years on tour. She did log 11 top-10 finishes overall, three second-place finishes.

    How did she evaluate her season?

    “I feel like it was a better year than everyone else thinks, like `Lydia is in a slump,’” Ko said. “I feel like I played solid.

    “It's a season that, obviously, I learned a lot from ... the mental aspect of saying, `Hey, get over the bads and kind of move on.’”

    Ko said she learned a lot watching Stacy Lewis deal with her run of second-place finishes after winning so much.

    “Winning a championship is a huge deal, but, sometimes, it's overrated when you haven't won,” Ko said. “Like, you're still playing well, but just haven't won. I kind of feel like it's been that kind of year.

    “I think everybody has little ups and downs.”

    For Ariya, Lexi, finish was fabulous, frustrating

    By Randall MellNovember 20, 2017, 12:47 am

    NAPLES, Fla. – Lexi Thompson can take a punch.

    You have to give her that.

    So can Ariya Jutanugarn, who beat Thompson in the gut-wrenching conclusion to the CME Group Tour Championship Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

    They both distinguished themselves overcoming adversity this season.

    The problem for Thompson now is that she’ll have to wait two months to show her resolve again. She will go into the long offseason with the memory of missing a 2-foot putt for par that could have won her the championship, her first Rolex Player of the Year Award and her first Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Thompson took home the CME Globe $1 million jackpot and Vare Trophy for low scoring as nice consolation prizes, but the Sunday finish was a lot like her season.

    It was so close to being spectacular.

    She was so close to dominating this year.

    That last 2-foot putt Sunday would have put Thompson in the clubhouse at 15 under, with a one-shot lead, which would have added so much more pressure to Jutanugarn as she closed out.

    Instead of needing to birdie the final two holes to force a playoff, Jutanugarn only needed to birdie one of them to assure extra holes. She went birdie-birdie anyway.

    Thompson was on the practice putting green when she heard the day’s last roar, when Jutanugarn rolled in a 15-foot birdie to beat her.

    “It wasn’t the way I wanted to end it,” Thompson said of the short miss. “I don’t really know what happened there. It just happens. I guess it’s golf.”


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    Thompson was asked if the weight of everything at stake affected her.

    “No, honestly, I wasn’t thinking about it,” she said. “I putted great the whole day. I guess, maybe, there was just a little bit of adrenaline.

    “We all go through situations we don’t like sometimes.”

    Thompson endured more than she wanted this year.

    She won twice, but there were six second-place finishes, including Sunday’s. There were three losses in playoffs.

    There was the heart-wrenching blow at the ANA Inspiration, the season’s first major, when she looked as if she were going to run away with the title before getting blindsided by a four-shot penalty in the final round. There were two shots when a viewer email led to a penalty for mismarking her ball on a green in the third round, and two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard.

    Thompson was in tears finishing that Sunday at Mission Hills, but she won a legion of new fans in the way she fought back before losing in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

    There was more heartache later in the spring, when Thompson’s mother, Judy, was diagnosed with uterine cancer, requiring surgery to remove a tumor and then radiation.

    For Thompson fans, Sunday’s missed 2-foot putt was a cruel final blow to the year.

    This time, there were no tears from Lexi afterward.

    “Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds . . . it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said. “This won’t either.”

    After Thompson bounced back from the ANA loss to win the Kingsmill Invitational in May, she acknowledged how the loss motivated her.

    “I'm as determined as any other person out here,” Thompson said. “We all want to win. I have a little bit more drive now.”

    She was so close this year to elevating herself as the one true rock star in the women’s game. She will have a long offseason to turn Sunday’s disappointment into yet more fuel to get there.

    Thompson will prepare for next year knowing Jutanugarn may be ramping her game back up to dominante, too.

    Jutanugarn looked as if she were going to become a rock star after winning five times last year to claim the Rolex Player of the Year Award and then rising to No. 1 with a victory at the Manulife Classic back in May, but it didn’t happen.

    Jutanugarn struggled through a summer-long slump.

    She failed to make a cut in six of seven starts. It wasn’t as miserable a slump as she endured two years ago, when she missed 10 consecutive cuts, but it was troubling.

    “Even though I played so badly the last few months, I learned a lot,” Jutanugarn said. “I’m growing up a lot, and I’m really ready to have some fun next year.”

    Her surgically repaired shoulder was bothering her again, but it was more than that.

    “This time it was more about becoming No. 1,” said Gary Gilchrist, her coach. “I think all of the responsibilities got to her.”

    Gilchrist said he could see a different focus in Jutanugarn this week. He credited Vision 54s Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott for helping her deal with all the pressure that has mounted with her growing status.

    “It’s been a long process,” Nilsson said. “She’s felt too much expectation from everybody else, where she loses focus on what she can do.”

    Marriott said they asked Jutanugarn to come up with something she wanted to do to make herself proud this week, instead of worrying about what would please everyone else.

    It worked.

    “I told my caddie, Les [Luark], that thinking about the No. 1 ranking wasn’t going to help me be a better golfer,” Jutanugarn said. “I wanted people to say, `Oh this girl, she’s really happy.’ That was my goal, to have fun.”

    Late Sunday, hoisting the trophy, Jutanugarn looked like she was having a lot of fun.

    Thomas vs. Rose could be Ryder Cup highlight

    By Rex HoggardNovember 19, 2017, 11:40 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – For those still digesting the end of 2017 – the European Tour did, after all, just wrap up its season in Dubai on Sunday – consider that the PGA Tour is already nearly one-fifth of the way into a new edition.

    The Tour has already crowned eight champions as the game banks into the winter break, and there are some interesting trends that have emerged from the fall.

    Dueling Justins: While Justin Thomas picked up where he left off last season, winning the inaugural CJ Cup in October just three weeks after claiming the FedExCup and wrapping up Player of the Year honors; Justin Rose seems poised to challenge for next year’s low Justin honors.

    The Englishman hasn’t finished outside the top 10 since August and won back-to-back starts (WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open) before closing his year with a tie for fourth place in Dubai.

    Note to U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk: Justin v. Justin next September in Paris could be fun.

    Youth served. Just in case anyone was thinking the pendulum might be swinging back in the direction of experience over youthful exuberance – 41-year-old Pat Perez did put the veterans on the board this season with his victory at the CIMB Classic – Patrick Cantlay solidified his spot as genuine phenom.

    Following an injury-plagued start to his career, Cantlay got back on track this year, needing just a dozen starts to qualify for the Tour Championship. He went next level earlier this month with his playoff victory at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    They say these trends come and go in professional golf, but as the average age of winners continues to trend lower and lower it’s safe to say 25 is the new 35 on Tour.

    A feel for it. For all the science that has become such a big part of the game – from TrackMan analysis to ShotLink statistics – it was refreshing to hear that Patton Kizzire’s breakthrough victory at the OHL Classic came down to a hunch.

    With the tournament on the line and Rickie Fowler poised just a stroke back, Kizzire’s tee shot at the 72nd hole came to rest in an awkward spot that forced him to stand close to his approach shot to keep his feet out of the sand. His 8-iron approach shot sailed to 25 feet and he two-putted for par.

    And how far did he have for that pivotal approach?

    “I have no idea,” he laughed.

    Fall facelift. Although the moving parts of the 2018-19 schedule appear to be still in flux, how the changes will impact the fall schedule is coming into focus.

    The Tour’s goal is to end the season on Labor Day, which means the fall portion of the schedule will begin a month earlier than it does now. While many see that as a chance for the circuit to embrace a true offseason, it’s becoming increasingly clear that won’t be the case.

    The more likely scenario is an earlier finish followed by a possible team competition, either the Ryder or Presidents cup, before the Tour kicks off a new season in mid-September, which means events currently played before the Tour Championship will slide to the fall schedule.

    “So if you slide it back, somebody has to jump ahead. The mechanics of it,” said Davis Love III, host of the RSM Classic and a member of the Tour’s policy board. “I’m still going to go complain and beg for my day, but I also understand when they say, this is your date, make it work, then we'll make it work.”

    While 2019 promises to bring plenty of change to the Tour, know that the wraparound season and fall golf are here to stay.

    Product protection. Speaking of the fall schedule and the likely plan to expand the post-Tour Championship landscape, officials should also use the platform to embrace some protections for these events.

    Consider that the RSM Classic featured the third-strongest field last week according to the Official World Golf Ranking, behind the season-ending tournament in Dubai on the European Tour and the Dunlop Phoenix on the Japan Golf Tour.

    The winner in Dubai received 50 World Ranking points, a marquee event that has historically been deeper than that week’s Tour stop, while the Dunlop Phoenix winner, Brooks Koepka, won 32 points. Austin Cook collected 30 points for his victory at Sea Island Resort.

    All told, the Japan event had four players in the field from the top 50 in the world, including world No. 4 Hideki Matsuyama; while the highest-ranked player at the RSM Classic was Matt Kuchar at 15th and there were seven players from the top 50 at Sea Island Resort.

    Under Tour rules, Koepka, as well as any other Tour members who competed either in Japan or Dubai, had to be granted conflicting-event releases by the circuit.

    Although keeping players from participating in tournaments overseas is not an option, it may be time for the circuit to reconsider the conflicting-event policy if the result is a scenario like last week that relegates a Tour event to third on the international dance card.