West Coast swing a tribute to Tiger influence

By Brandel ChambleeFebruary 22, 2017, 1:00 pm

The cards have been so thoroughly reshuffled in this game. Twenty years ago, the average age of the winners on the West Coast swing – including a 21-year-old by the name of Tiger Woods – was 35. Ten years ago, it was 33. The oldest winner since the start of this calendar year is Dustin Johnson at 32, and the average age of the winners of the first seven events in 2017 is 25. One of them, Justin Thomas, at the tender age of 23 shot the lowest 72-hole score in the history of the PGA Tour. Youngsters aren’t forcing open the gate – they’ve settled in and have their feet up on the coffee table, remote in hand.

With few exceptions, and those generally turning out to be amongst the best players of all time, men’s professional golf has historically been more about experience than youth. A player would come onto the Tour with all the talent in the world, and if he wasn’t gobbled up by the dragons of expectation, he would invariably wrong-foot himself and some squint-eyed veteran would shove all that talent and expectation down his throat.

Jack Nicklaus said that “success [in professional golf] depends almost entirely on how effectively you learn to manage the game's two ultimate adversaries: the course and yourself.” Most players don’t have the maturity to handle the pressures, either of expectation or intimidation, early on in professional golf and when it comes to the Tour courses, veterans knew them, newcomers didn’t. Young players were at a tremendous disadvantage. That’s how would-be stars became journeymen and journeymen became insurance salesmen.



More recently, however, players are living up to the expectations that precede them to the Tour. In terms of intimidation, there is a certain obliviousness on the part of young professional golfers today that wasn't present in their predecessors. And course knowledge appears to be about as important as who goes first in Tic-Tac-Toe.

Why is this happening? With regard to course knowledge, the advent of 24/7 golf coverage and detailed topography maps have reduced the necessity of having played a course for years to almost nil. Besides that, scads of young players today can hit it past the trouble and leave themselves short irons, allowing them to get at pins they wouldn’t have been able to decades ago. This mitigates the necessity of strategy, and, it follows, experience. An advantage once enjoyed by just a few players every generation is now enjoyed by all but a few. Why they are all hitting the ball so far is another story.

Of course, technology has played a large part in the increased distances Tour players are flying their shots. Lighter, longer clubs that are more forgiving have given a ferocity to the swings of this generation, replacing the discretion of previous ones. Livelier, more aerodynamic balls have done their part, too. But it’s not just the equipment.

All sports are becoming defined by athletes who are physiologically, almost freakishly, perfect for the unique demands of their competition. In 2014, David Epstein, author of “The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance,” explained that as financial incentives for elite athletes have skyrocketed, a form of artificial selection has taken place.

“Where height is prized, athletes are getting taller; where diminutive size is prized, athletes are getting smaller and where weirdness in body type is prized, athletes are getting weirder. For example, in swimming a long torso and short legs are ideal, the torso acting like the long hull of a canoe over the water. In running, the opposite is ideal: long legs and a short torso.”

Epstein says all we have to do is look at the bodies of Michael Phelps, the greatest swimmer and Olympian ever, and Hicham El Guerrouj, the greatest middle-distance runner of all time, who holds the world record for the mile. Phelps is 6-foot-4 and El Guerrouj is 5-foot-9, yet they wear the same length pants. Seven inches of difference in height but because of different body types, their legs are the same length.

While Tour players are certainly on average taller than they were a few decades ago, it’s not just height that is prized in golf but also the ability, like a gymnast, to contort their bodies and spring and rotate. So when one looks at the landscape of the PGA Tour compared with decades ago, it is now littered with more agile bodies, because of this “artificial selection” and the fact that players are almost universally training more intelligently.

But there is a still-bigger reason for the youthful success that is happening on the PGA Tour. When these early- to mid- 20-somethings were just starting to play the game, they had as their teacher, for the better part of two decades, the greatest example of tenacity and technique in the history of the game. All they had to do was turn the TV on and there was a man who was as good with the scalpel as he was with the cleaver, as herculean in his determination as he was Euclidian. At one point going 14 of 14 with a 54-hole lead in a major, he gave these kids the highest example of athleticism and athletic stoicism. In the same way he psychologically destroyed his competition then, Tiger has psychologically armed the competition today.

Getty Images

Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

Getty Images

The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

Getty Images

Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

Getty Images

Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.