No Joke Guys Lighten Up

By Brian HewittSeptember 7, 2007, 4:00 pm
In case you werent watching Thursday, a star was born.
 
In tennis.
 
Serbias Novak Djokovic, the No. 3 seed and a rising young force in the mens game, had just defeated Spains Carlos Moya in straight sets to advance to the semi-finals of the U.S. Open.
 
Afterward, while still on the court, television interviewer Michael Barkann mentioned that he had heard that Djokovic did several entertaining impressions of other top players.
 
Which one, the 20-year-old Djokovic asked, do you want me to do?
 
Most of the huge crowd was still hanging around watching and listening in over the public address system. All of a sudden there was a buzz of anticipation.
 
Maria Sharapova, Barkann requested.
 
At which point, Djokovic hitched up his shorts, made a few other wardrobe adjustments and proceeded to do a dead-on impersonation of the No. 2 seed on the womens side that had been knocked out of her draw earlier in the fortnight.
 
It brought down the house.
 
One more, Barkann begged: Rafael Nadal.
 
This time Djokovic lowered his shorts, not pruriently, in a mock attempt to mimic the Capri-style pants Nadal wears. He affected a few more idiosyncrasies. And suddenly it was if Nadal himself (who had lost earlier in the week) was right there on the court.
 
Both imitations were caricatures. Both were laugh-out-loud funny. And both came at a time when athletes, in almost every sport, are deadpanning about how they play just one shot and/or match at a time and how they need to stay focused.
 
Nothing wrong with staying in the moment and being focused. It may be even more important in golf than it is in tennis.
 
But the willingness of Novak (No Joke) Djokovic to lighten up for a few minutes at one his sports biggest stages was so, so refreshing.
 
Athletes have to be themselves. We should never expect Tiger Woods to act like Chris Rock the next time he wins The Masters. Phil Mickelson will never be Rodney Dangerfield. And thank goodness for that.
 
But Djokovic, who is good enough at tennis to have beaten world No. 1 Roger Federer, earlier this summer, takes his sport very seriously when he is on the court. He sometimes bounces the ball 23 times before serving. (And we thought Jim Furyk backing away from putts to get re-reads was annoying). Its enough to drive you to distraction. Even Djokovic, sounding a little like Ben Crane, knows its a problem.
 
The best golf impersonator Ive seen is Peter Jacobsen. His Craig Stadler and Arnold Palmer are hilarious and have been aired many times on GOLF CHANNEL. I have also been treated, as part of a private audience, to a Jacobsen send-up of GOLF CHANNEL colleague Mark Lye. It literally made me fall down laughing.
 
But what made Djokovics impromptu improv so intriguing and so winning was his willingness to do it at a time and placed normally not reserved for humor.
 
The best thing going, that way, in golf these days is former PGA champion Rich Beem. The Beemer jumped back onto golfs radar screen at the first two FedExCup playoff events. He played well. And that got him into the press room.
 
Among other things, with transcribers recording every word, Beem said:
 
When asked about his mental state: Im managing my marbles.
 
When asked to name his favorite thing about the FedExCup: The money.
 
When asked how smart he is: I may be dumb but I aint stupid.
 
Theres a lot of showman in Beem and a tiny bit of Yogi Berra. That is to say, he understands what he doesnt understand.
 
There are guys out there (on the PGA TOUR) who wear their emotions on their sleeve'Calcavecchia, Steve Pate, Pat Perez, Beem said. I dont think theres anything wrong with it as long as it doesnt carry over from one shot to the next to the next and you make an ass out of yourself out there. I think that, you know, its okay to some emotion out there.
 
Right on, Rich.
 
And to that I would add: I wish Novak Djokovic played golf.

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    Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

    By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

    There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

    Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

    Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

    Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

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    The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

    It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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    Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

    Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

    The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

    It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

    "It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


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    Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

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    Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

    After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

    Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

    La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

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    Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

    The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

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    Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

    By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

    New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

    The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

    "Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


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    Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

    It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

    Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.