Forties can be tough to fathom for pro golfers

By Damon HackOctober 25, 2012, 8:57 pm

For his 40th birthday Padraig Harrington received a vintage Coca-Cola machine, and he can talk your ears off about its charms.

The machine takes quarters – as any good vintage item should - and apparently dispenses the iciest-cold bottles you’ve ever tasted.

But ask Harrington about the significance of his 40th birthday and one of the most talkative players on the PGA Tour grows quiet.

“Nothing,” Harrington, now 41, said of the birthday milestone during the Byron Nelson Championship. “Nothing at all.”

But? But?

“Nothing,” he said, eyes narrowing.

Harrington is hardly the only golfer to look askance at a philosophical discussion of the aging golfer. The topic lives on the fairways and greens of the professional game but also in sports as a whole. (Who doesn’t recall the story of Willie Mays falling down in the outfield as an ancient member of the New York Mets?)

So what are we to make of the golfer past 40?

Does “40 as the new 30” apply to the professional golfer? Who can know for sure?

On Bermuda on Wednesday, Harrington held off a younger trio of Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley to win the PGA Grand Slam of Golf for the first time.

But three days earlier, forty-somethings Davis Love III (tee shot into the water), David Toms (tee shot into a bunker) and Jim Furyk (tee shot left of the green) each failed to chase down Tommy “Two Gloves” Gainey down the stretch at The McGladrey Classic.

Were those nervous golf swings by fading champions or was that just golf?

People have forever pointed to Jack Nicklaus’ win at the 1986 Masters at age 46 as proof that older players can still do magic. Sam Snead won the Greater Greensboro Open at age 52, the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. Tom Watson’s near victory at 59 at the 2009 Open Championship at Turnberry provided further evidence that winning tournaments with salt and pepper is not farfetched.

But are Nicklaus, Snead and Watson exceptions or the rule? And, besides, aren’t they three of the greatest players of all time?

Tiger Woods often points to Nicklaus (and now Watson) as evidence that he has plenty of time to surpass Nicklaus’ mark of 18 major championships, but history says he’d better hurry.

Only 36 of the last 423 major championships (dating back to 1860) have been won by forty-somethings, the last two being Darren Clarke at the 2011 Open Championship and Ernie Els at the 2012 Open Championship.

Woods’s golfing gifts are all-time, but that does not mean winning majors in his 40s will be a slam dunk. 

At the 2010 Transitions Championship I posed the question to Jim Furyk about soon turning 40, neither of us knowing he would win that tournament and two more besides, claiming the FedEx Cup title and Player of the Year award at the season’s end.

“I feel a lot of it has to do with the fire and the want and desire to want to play,” Furyk said then. “You get a lot of guys when they get in their mid 40s, family becomes more important. They’ve got other business and other things going on and golf takes a back seat and it makes it a lot harder to compete. I definitely am not planning on retiring any time in the next few years. When I decide it’s time I’d like to be able to do it because I want to do it, not because I have to.”

Two years after winning Player of the Year, Furyk found himself in contention all season long, losing in a playoff at the Transitions, hitting a hook into the trees at The Olympic Club, and handing the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational to Keegan Bradley after making a mess of the 18th hole.

Furyk hit some wonderful shots at the Ryder Cup, but his missed putts will be all that’s remembered.

Surely, the desire was there but maybe the nerves were, too.

At 48, Kenny Perry said a poor chip on the 17th hole on Sunday of the 2009 Masters might have cost him a green jacket.

“I can’t stop my right hand when I get a little nervous,” he said then. “It wants to shoot a little bit and I can’t calm it down.”

Vijay Singh has won 22 times after turning 40 (including a major, the 2004 PGA Championship) but how many forty-somethings can match him for talent and work ethic?

These are the questions that dominate golf and sports. We don’t know when the winning will stop, only that it does for everyone. It is why Harrington’s smile was so wide in Bermuda and why Furyk’s face was pained in Sea Island.  

In a game of many mysteries, the 40s provide no certainties.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.