The Comebacker Dives In
Heres the way it works. You write me (dont worry, I have a thick skin) and I respond to you (youd better have a thick skin).
I will weigh in on the issues and your opinions. I will even hand out praise when merited.
This weeks Comebacker is a mixed bag, although its clear a lot of you still have a lot of thoughts about the verbal antipathy expressed by Tigers caddie, Steve Williams, towards Phil Mickelson.
Without further ado:
Bob writes: The rules of golf permit a player to change caddies in the middle of a round. In fact, he can change caddies as many times as he wants. I fail to see what point you journalists are trying to make when you keep bringing up the fact that Daly changed caddies. What is the point? That Jon Gruden is not a caddie? What makes one a caddie? A big foul mouth like some other caddies and players?
This refers to John Dalys decision to return from a rain delay with Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden on his bag. And heres the deal, Bob: Can you spell the word travesty? Would the New York Yankees return from a rain delay with John Daly coaching third base? And not all caddies have big foul mouths. Some of them have small foul mouths.
Michael writes: The drug testing episode highlights a series of actions which could only stem from a sense of personal privilege accompanied by the conceited belief in one's uniqueness. She (Annika Sorenstam) tarnished her own image with petulant demands and attempts to intimidate others to gain unwarranted advantage in several tournaments. The image of a young Paula Creamer walking away in apparent disgust while Sorenstam dropped is a lasting one. The spirit of the game was sacrificed for self-inflation.
Wow, I can count the number of shots I have seen or heard taken at Annika Sorenstam, in my lifetime, on one hand. Tough crowd.
Dave writes: Just a thought ' the Mercedes-Benz Championship should include Winning Ryder Cup Team Members who have not otherwise qualified for the season-opening tournament. Probably would only add a couple of players ' but I think it would be a nice added perk for winning Cup members.
Off the top of my head, your concept would have gotten Hunter Mahan to Kapalua. Plus Im sure a number of Euros would have been happy to show up ' Ian Poulter first among them. Good suggestion.
Churchill writes: Happy New Year, PGA Tour! Or not. Will 2009 continue the downward spiral of talented golfers and vanilla broadcasts with little to no appeal to the viewer? The Tour seems to have forgotten that golf is entertainment. Perhaps the economic reality of 2009 and its many pains will force the Tour to recognize that players personalities are as important as a player's golfing expertise. Then maybe, they will act to put fun back into golf's agenda. Train golfers to have a personality worth watching. Require announcers to be frank as well as complimentary (good job Nick Faldo and Johnny Miller)I'm for more fun in 2009, including anything having to do with golf. I think we all will need it!
I especially like it when Nobilo is frank And, by the way, Im warning you people: Dont abuse the use of the exclamation point. The Comebacker will not tolerate unwarranted hyperbole in 2009.
Tom writes: He is fat, smokes, drinks and can't play. He should not be on the Tour. The fact he was arrested (for public) drunkenness is just one of the many..
And please, people, finish your sentences Anyway, for a second I thought Tom was talking about the late Jackie Gleason. But the subject box said Daly. Gleason, by the way, was the Great One long before Wayne Gretzky was born.
Ben writes: Brian I am very pleased with the way you do your job and just wished to say so. While I am sure you know you can't please everyone, the guys I play golf with, a bunch of old codgers and I mean old 80-plus, frequently hash out your comments over a beer after a round.
The Comebacker loves Ben and his boys, if not their demographic. Ben makes me think we ought to ask the readers for their golf Bucket List selections. What people, places or things in golf do you readers want to know, see or do before you die? Let me know.
Neil writes: About John, he and me are similar; we are both golf professionals, although I am just a journeyman club pro [and not a great typist]; (we) both share the same birth date (April 28); and we are both alcoholics (sober for 26 yrs). Once he accepts this and gets on with his life things will be OK. It is not his fault that he has this disease but it is his fault if he doesn't TRY to recover. There is lots of help out there for him. Golf needs John Daly.
Typing excused, Neil. Stay strong.
Phil writes: You said: And while were at it, lets thank our stars that the names of golfs best players arent regularly found on police blotters. Other sports should be so lucky. Let's be honest here. The word is privileged, not lucky. Crime patterns do not follow athletes who grow up in homes where china patterns are considered important. Yes, I know golf is reaching out to kids of less privilege, but too many of those efforts are doomed to financial failure, and this remains a sport (like tennis) where stars come from families who can support participant tutelage in ways few enjoy. There's a reason why you can count Tour Democrats, progressives, and (dare I say it?) liberals on one hand. Elite players come from wealthy backgrounds that are traditionally conservative or Republican, and either of unusual privilege, or with clear access to the benefits of privilege.
Never thought, when I woke up this morning, that the phrase china patterns would be linked to civil obedience. At least not in this space. The good news is the primary unusual privilege in Tiger Woods early years had nothing to do with a wealthy background and everything to do with great parents.
Thomas writes: Steve Williams spoke his mind. You can question how much of one he has (a mind that is) or what was going through it as he ripped Mickelson, but at least give him credit for putting out his opinion in a world where people work very hard not to have one. Was it a smart thing to say? Probably not as the smart thing is to play the game and say little to nothing as regards anything. Was he out of line? Probably, but I guess it depends on what you think of Phil and the degree to which you believe it reflected poorly on Tiger and the game of golf as a whole. Should he be fired? For speaking his mind, no. Did he put his boss in a tough spot? Absolutely and it required some work by Tiger to remedy a situation not of his doing.
And Ill bet you were beginning to think Id forgotten my promise to get into the Steve Williams issue. This one mostly supports him. The next one well ... read on.
Tom writes: Sounds like he (Steve Williams) is a drunk! Like a lot of golf people.
Hey, hey, hey.
Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY
NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.
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.
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
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.
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
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.”
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.
“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
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.
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.