Season Begins Off-Kilter

By Brian HewittJanuary 5, 2009, 5:00 pm
The New Year in golf arrived a little bit like your 30-foot lag putt that stops 10 feet short of the hole: All of a sudden youre playing defense just to make par.
 
Im referring to news that John Daly will serve the first months of 2009 under the uncompromising terms of a six-month suspension handed down by PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem.
 
Mercedes-Benz Championship
Kapalua will host the season-opener on the PGA Tour this week. (Getty Images)
Meanwhile, the Tour season begins Thursday with one of the most distinctive and photogenic events of the year: The elite-field Mercedes-Benz Championship in Hawaii, played on a gorgeous Crenshaw and Coore golf course built just up the bluff from the sparkling Pacific Ocean on the side of a lovely and verdant Maui mountain.
 
The only problem is the four highest-ranked players in the world ' Tiger Woods, Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Padraig Harrington ' won't be there for a variety of reasons, some more legitimate than others.
 
Daly still gets to play, but his legion of diehard fans will have to track his progress in Europe until mid-year. And two weeks of Tour pros in Hawaii will produce plenty of quality golf and pretty pictures for all those cold-climate Americans back on the mainland cursing their way through the throes of another harsh winter.
 
Its just that the news of Daly wearing out his welcome with the bosses in Ponte Vedra and the absence of the best and brightest in Kapalua, for the moment, has golf a little bit off balance. Kind of like what Utah did to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl if you follow college football.
 
And it didnt need to be this way.
 
Lets start with Daly: His critics are saying the suspension should have been longer. I say it should have come earlier.
 
If you have ever been around Daly, you will find him impossible to dislike. But the alcohol-fueled incidents that have littered his off-the-course history have been pardoned too many times. Thats what happens when you win two majors because you have soft hands and a driver that leaves a vapor trail. In the case of Daly, an Arkansan, you become a rural legend.
 
And too much enabling has been allowed. It was encouraging to hear Dalys agent, Bud Martin, say that Daly needs to walk the walk ' not just talk the talk ' in the wake of the suspension and Dalys promises of better behavior. JD is also going to need a lot more tough love if he is going to resurrect a career in tatters and a game in shambles. He will be 43 in April. Time is short.
 
There were innocent bystanders in all of this (see the sidebar on the Daly Domino Effect). The tournament directors who were hoping to pump up ticket sales by giving Daly a sponsors exemption are, at least for the first five or six months of the season, out of luck. Yes, Daly is still a draw.
 
As for the Mercedes-Benz Championship: It needs to change its qualification standards. Right now you have to win an official Tour event to qualify. The size of the field is typically in the 30s.
 
This tournament is descended from the old Tournament of Champions concept. And its title sponsors have always rolled out a spectacular welcome mat for its participants.
 
Woods is recovering from knee operation. Garcia is gearing up for the Race to Dubai on the European Tour. Mickelson traditionally re-tools his game in California this time of year and Harrington is probably smart to remain resting after his whirlwind Player of the Year campaign in 2008.
 
So why not let more players in the field? Why not keep the winners plus anybody who finished the previous year in, say, the top 50 in the world rankings? The field would still be elite. And it would still be small enough that getting everybody around each day before darkness would not be a problem.
 
This is not a new idea. But the climate in professional golf today is more directly tied to the world economy than at any time since the Great Depression. And professional golf needs to re-explore options and re-invent solutions whenever, and wherever, it can.
 
Ill be rooting for Daly this year. Hes not a bad guy but he is a bit of a tortured soul. His sport just needs him to clean up his act. His personality will always be there.
 
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.
 
What would be so bad about a New Years resolution from each of the worlds top-ranked 30 players to enter at least one event in 2009 that they have not played in previously?
 
The title sponsors that have been loyal to a Tour that has made millionaires out of hundreds of players deserve better. And the Tour that has provided the format for Dalys legend deserves a little more in the way of reliability from him when he returns.
 
Related Links:
  • Daly Domino Effect
     
    Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt
  • If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

    By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

    NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

    She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

    You don’t believe it, though.

    She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

    Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

    Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

    “In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

    Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

    Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

    At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

    She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

    She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

    And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


    CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


    There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

    Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

    It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

    Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

    Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

    “I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

    About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

    Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

    “She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

    David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

    “She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

    Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

    Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

    “Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

    Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

    “It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

    Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

    “No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

    Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

    National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

    The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

    Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

    These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

    Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

    By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

    This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

    “I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

    In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

    If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

    “He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

    Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

    By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

    ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

    Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

    ''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

    The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

    The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


    RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

    Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


    ''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

    Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

    ''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

    First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

    Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

    ''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

    ''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''