Tiger the Whistle Stop Tour Pt 7

By Casey BiererFebruary 25, 2007, 5:00 pm
Editors note: Golf Channel business reporter Casey Bierer participated in Nike Golfs Whistle Stop Tour; a press and media junket that traveled a group of Nike execs and invited media to four cities in 48 hours. This column is the seventh entry of a multi-part series chronicling the journey.
Heres a recipe we havent seen before: one Nike GV jet, four cities in 48 hours, three PGA TOUR stars - Tiger Woods, David Duval and Jason Gore - a number of key Nike Golf executives, five print journalists, one television reporter (me) and the launch of two new Nike drivers. Mix thoroughly. The result? Nikes Whistle Stop Tour (WST); a media junket extravaganza that, even by Nike standards, is unprecedented.
The assignment given to me by The Golf Channel ' create a reporters first person video journal of the trip. Roll tape as much as possible. When in doubt shoot first, beg for forgiveness later. And, oh yeah, interview Woods, Duval and Gore. This was going to be fun.
Part 6
The interview with Tiger in Los Angeles went off without a hitch. Tiger went his way and we, the Nike WST participants, went our way. The way was east; with David Duval comfortably onboard Nikes GV we jetted towards Phoenix, Arizona and the TPC Scottsdale. While our lovely stewardess Allison put out a tasty lunch of fresh sandwiches, salad, fruit and beverages I took the opportunity to chat with the worlds former No. 1.
Casey: So, David, no matter what it looks like, no matter what it sounds like, if the ball goes straighter and longer thats a good thing?
Duval: That is all good. That is good. And I think the progression of all clubs over the years ' drivers, irons, fairway woods and more recently hybrids ' the science is coming in to play more and more. The demand or insistence that golf clubs must be traditional looking is gone, I thinkthats out the window now. Just like the days of the wound golf ballthose days are over. I think when you can innovate like Nike has with the Sumo and Sumo people are going to be very open to using this new gear.
Casey: We probably see the most radical shape geometries being employed in drivers, right?
Duval: I would certainly agree with that. I think people are open to just about anything that is going to help them hit the ball longer and straighter; and TOUR professionals, for the most part, are no exception to that. I think with irons people might be a little more apt to stick to what they know ' what they are used to ' but with drivers, I really think the gloves are off at this point. You know for me, when it comes to irons, I dont really need help getting the ball up because I am generating a fair amount of club head speed. So even if the rough is up or I dont have a great lie I am still going to be able to catch it solid. But with amateurs, I can completely understand why hybrids and game improvement irons are so attractive. I think for average players ' and were even seeing a lot of it on the professionals TOURS the last few years ' hybrids are a great addition to just about any golf bag.
Casey: Looking at your own game for a moment, are you a numbers guy ' launch monitor, spin rates, launch conditions ' or are you more of a feel player? If the ball flies the way you want it to thats your barometer?
Duval: I am most definitely not a guy who is fixated on the numbers. I think I check the numbers from time to time to make sure I am not way off the mark in terms of how my equipment is set up for me. But I get my feedback mainly from seeing how the ball is flying and if it is going where I want it to go. I also really just feel it through my swing and through my hands and body. But, you know, if I want to compare a couple of clubs side-by-side I will get on the launch monitor and see what the numbers say. But, you know, having hit enough golf balls over the years I have a fairly good idea of what it should look like in the air and how it should react when it lands to be performing well.
Casey: My sources in Nikes Tour Department tell me you still prefer a little bit of a lower launch angle off your driver than the launch monitor indicates is optimal. Hard to teach an old dog new tricks?
Duval: (laughs) You could certainly say that. The one thing I have been reluctant to do is get my launch angle up to where the people at Nike want me to. I like to see the ball come off the driver a little lower than what the launch monitor numbers say is optimal and even though its hard to argue with science its also hard to break my instincts of what I want the ball to fly like. Theyve worked on me the last few years and Ive allowed the launch angle to come up a little bit but I cant quite let them get me all the way up to the 12 degrees they are looking for.
Casey: In the last ten years Nike has gone from having no position in the golf industry to being considered a leader in golf and youve certainly been a big part of their success. Has it been interesting for you see this growth happen?
Duval: Oh, its been very interesting. Youre not just dealing with a golf brand youre dealing with one of the biggest brands in the world of any industryof any business. And Ive been involved early enough ' the last five, six, seven years ' to feel like I was in on the ground floor. And certainly as a guy who makes my living playing golf I place a lot of faith in the people at Nike Golf. The people that design and build the balls and clubs, I think they know how important what they do is because they are basically placing their vision of technology in my hands and telling me this is the best stuff out there and you can go out and win with it. The route that they are trying to take in golf technologywell, I dont see anybody around Nike following other companies, I see Nike leading what other companies do. And so I am excited to see what Nike Golf has done over the last ten years and I think its going to be exciting to see where they go in the future.
Casey: David, you are oh so closeI mean right there on the cusp of where you want to be again. Can you taste it?
Duval: I really think I can. You know, part of me was sad to see the 06 season come to an end because I was getting close. But at the same time I dont think I was really getting anything out of my golf either. I mean, virtually every day I teed it up I more or less posted the highest score I could post even though I was actually hitting the ball very well. But at the end of the year I was playing so, so well that that was exciting. And with those thoughts in mind I was quite happy to see 06 behind me, get rested and get in a good frame of mind and come out well in the 07 season.
Casey: Are you ever surprised or taken aback when you realize just how many millions and millions of people ' people you have never met and who most likely have never met you ' root for you to win again?
Duval: Its nice, isnt it? And yes, I really have felt that. And Ive certainly been asked why I think that is. And, you know, the only thing I can think of is that people saw me at the top and they have certainly seen me at the bottom and through it all I have always said what I thought was the truth ' what was really on my mind ' and I think people enjoy hearing from their athletes what they really thinkwhats really in their heartsand not that kind of safe, stock answer you get so often. So maybe thats why people are still pulling for me to do well. And also, people just like an underdog and they like comebacks. So I hope I can make them cheer again.
We arrived at TPC Scottsdale right on schedule and David Duval did in fact receive a very warm round of cheers from people who had come out to watch him hit the new Sumo and Sumo drivers.
Golf fans, let me do my best to try and explain what its like to stand ten feet away from David Duval when he lets driver rip on a wide open driving range. The ground shakes, trees bend and small children run for cover. The explosion of force as club head impacts golf ball sounds like heavy artillery fire. Jaws drop and eyeballs pop wide open. The ball goes, and goes, and goes and then goes some more. Duvals swingseemingly effortless and in perfect balanceis as comfortable as slipping in to an old pair of loafers. How he does it I can not begin to tell you. I can tell you watching David Duval hit driver is a sight to behold.
We were all sorry to say goodbye to David but quite pleased to be joined by another of Nikes big bombers, Jason Gore. Jason would fly with us the next morning to New York City and the financial district where he would put on an exhibition of his own. But, not before dinner on this lovely Scottsdale night. You think Jason Gore can play golf, you should see him eat!
Related Links:
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 6
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 5
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 4
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 3
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 2
  • Tiger and the Whistle Stop Tour, Part 1
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    Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

    The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

    “Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

    After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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    Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

    “Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”

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    Rory almost channels Tiger with 72nd-hole celebration

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:11 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Rory McIlroy’s final putt at the Arnold Palmer Invitational felt awfully familiar.

    He rolled in the 25-footer for birdie and wildly pumped his fist, immediately calling to mind Woods’ heroics on Bay Hill’s 18th green.

    Three times Woods holed a putt on the final green to win this event by a stroke.

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    McIlroy was just happy to provide a little extra cushion as the final group played the finishing hole.

    “I’ve seen Tiger do that enough times to know what it does,” McIlroy said. “So I just wanted to try and emulate that. I didn’t quite give it the hat toss – I was thinking about doing that. But to be able to create my own little bit of history on the 18th green here is pretty special.”

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    A performance fit for a King

    By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:08 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Five hundred and 40 days had passed since Rory McIlroy last won, and since golf lost one of its most iconic players.

    So much has transpired in McIlroy’s life since then – marriage, injury, adversity – but even now he vividly recalls the awkward end to the 2016 Tour Championship. He had just captured the FedExCup and $11 million bonus, but afterward, in the scrum, he was asked instead to reflect on the passing earlier that day of Arnold Palmer, at age 87.

    “Obviously I had a great win and it was a great day for me, but in the big scheme of things, that didn’t matter,” he said. “The game of golf had lost an icon, a legend, an inspiration to so many of us. I probably wasn’t as ecstatic as maybe I would have been if Arnie hadn’t passed away.”

    But there was McIlroy on Sunday at Bay Hill, at Arnie’s Florida home, summoning the kind of charge that would have made the King proud. With five birdies in his last six holes, he broke away from a stacked leaderboard to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational for his first victory on Tour in 18 months, since that bittersweet evening at East Lake.

    “Kind of ironic,” he said Sunday.

    But the connection between McIlroy and Palmer runs deeper than that.

    Palmer and McIlroy’s wife, Erica, shared a birthday – Sept. 10.

    Palmer wrote letters to McIlroy after each of his many victories.

    Palmer had lobbied for years to get McIlroy to play this event, even threatening him. “If he doesn’t come and play Bay Hill,” Palmer said in 2012, “he might have a broken arm and he won’t have to worry about where he’s going to play next.”

    McIlroy kept all of his limbs intact but didn’t add the event until 2015, when Palmer’s health was beginning to deteriorate. That week he sat for a two-hour dinner with Palmer in the Bay Hill clubhouse, and the memories still bring a smile to his face.

    “I was mesmerized,” McIlroy said.

    And entertained, of course.

    Palmer ordered fish for dinner. “And I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A.1. Sauce?’” McIlroy said.

    “And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ And he said, ‘No, for me!’"

    McIlroy chuckled at the exchange, then added somberly: “I was very fortunate to spend that time with him.”

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    McIlroy has been telling anyone who will listen that he’s close to playing his best golf, but even he was surprised by the drastic turn of events over the past 10 days.

    During that 18-month winless drought, he endured an onslaught of questions about his wedge play, his putting, his health and his motivation. Burnt out by the intense spotlight, and needing to rehab a nagging rib injury, he shut it down for four months last fall, a mental and physical reset.

    But after an encouraging start to his 2018 campaign in the Middle East, McIlroy was a non-factor in each of his first four Tour starts. That included a missed cut last week in Tampa, where he was admittedly searching.

    “The best missed cut I’ve ever had,” he said.

    McIlroy grinded all last weekend, stumbling upon a swing thought, a feeling, like he was making a three-quarter swing. Then he met for a few hours Monday in South Florida with former PGA Tour winner and putting savant Brad Faxon. They focused on being more instinctive and reactionary over the ball.

    “He just freed me up,” McIlroy said.

    Freed up his stroke, which had gotten too rigid.

    And freed up his mind, which was bogged down with technical thoughts and self-doubt.

    “The objective is to get the ball in the hole,” he said, “and I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

    All McIlroy did at Bay Hill was produce the best putting week of his career.  

    Starting the final round two shots back of Henrik Stenson, McIlroy made the turn in 33 and then grabbed a share of the lead on the 11th hole.

    Tiger Woods was making a run, moving within a shot of the lead, but McIlroy answered with a charge of his own, rattling off four consecutive birdies – a 16-footer on 13, a 21-footer on 14, a chip-in on 15 and a two-putt birdie after a 373-yard drive on 16 – that left Woods and everyone else in the dust.

    Then McIlroy finished it off in style, rolling in a 25-footer on the last that was eerily similar to the putt that Woods has holed so many times at his personal playground.

    “I know what the putt does,” McIlroy said, “so it was nice to make my own little bit of history.”

    Justin Rose has played plenty of meaningful golf with McIlroy over the years, but he’d never seen him roll it like he did Sunday.

    “He turned on the burners on the back nine,” he said. “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

    It’s little wonder McIlroy pulled ahead of a star-studded leaderboard, closing with a bogey-free 64 and winning by three shots at 18-under 270 – he led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

    “It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

    Over the next two weeks, there figures to be plenty of conversation about whether McIlroy can channel that fearlessness into the major he covets most. The Masters is the only piece missing from a career Grand Slam, and now, thanks to Faxon’s tips, he’s never been in a better position.

    But after a turbulent 18 months, McIlroy needed no reminder to savor a victory that felt like a long time coming.

    There was a hug for his parents, Gerry and Rosie.

    A kiss for his wife, Erica.

    A handshake for Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, and then a fitting into the champion’s alpaca cardigan.

    The only thing missing was the King himself, waiting atop the hill behind 18 with his huge smile and vice-grip handshake.

    “Hopefully he’s up there smiling,” McIlroy said, “and hopefully he’s proud of me with the way I played that back nine.”

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    McIlroy remembers Arnie dinner: He liked A-1 sauce on fish

    By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 1:06 am

    ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off a stirring victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy offered a pair of culinary factoids about two of the game’s biggest names.

    McIlroy regretted not being able to shake Palmer’s hand behind the 18th green after capping a three-shot win with a Sunday 64, but with the trophy in hand he reflected back on a meal he shared with Palmer at Bay Hill back in 2015, the year before Palmer passed away.

    “I knew that he liked A-1 sauce on his fish, which was quite strange,” McIlroy said. “I remember him asking the server, ‘Can I get some A-1 sauce?’ And the server said, ‘For your fish, Mr. Palmer?’ He said, ‘No, for me.’”

    Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

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    A few minutes later, McIlroy revealed that he is also a frequent diner at The Woods Jupiter, the South Florida restaurant launched by Tiger Woods. In fact, McIlroy explained that he goes to the restaurant every Wednesday with his parents – that is, when he’s not spanning the globe winning golf tournaments.

    Having surveyed the menu a few times, he considers himself a fan.

    “It’s good. He seems pretty hands-on with it,” McIlroy said. “Tuna wontons are good, the lamb lollipops are good. I recommend it.”