Musings from My Mind - COPIED
The Importance of Being Ernest
I guess we could say Ernie Els was ahead of his time; a pioneer in what has become a recent popular trend in making bold statements regarding Tiger Woods (see: Rory Sabatini, Jason Day, Ian Poulter), when at the end of 2006 the South African declared he had a three-year plan to overtake Tiger as World No. 1. Of course, we know he hasnt even come close to that goal, nor will he, even with his victory at The Honda. To be fair, Im in the second year of MY three-year plan to own (and rule with an iron-fist!) the GOLF CHANNEL and look where I am still getting coffee for Kraig Kann when he gives me the signal ' one sugar, no cream; yes, sir. So, I really have no room to criticize. Even with his rise to No. 3 in the world, Ernest simply needs to re-adjust his goals. In summary kids: stay earnest and have aspirations (just not unattainable ones).
Its all fun and games in Harding Park paradise until Robin Williams publicist denies you any remote possibility that his client will be available for your amusement. Turns out, Fred Couples thoughts of Williams entertaining the golf troops at the Presidents Cup in 09 -- a whole 19 months out (who plans comedy that far ahead?) -- were ix-nayed the same day Freddie joked about it at his captain's press conference. And thankfully so! Of all the possible comedians, Boom-Boom, your go-to was Patch Adams? Has Williams even been funny since Good Morning, Vietnam? And moreover, how alien is he going to be for young guns on the team like DJ Trahan, who hadn't even been born when Mork and Mindy hit the airwaves.
Who does 47-year-old Mark Calcavecchia think he is?... Julio Franco? His Italian surname translates to old crowd, but this guy has been playing like hes a spry spring chicken since, well, last spring when he captured his first PGA TOUR win in two years. With three top-20 finishes in 08 and 11 top-25 finishes in 07, including the event where hes defending this week, the PODS, Calc is STILL GETTING IT DONE! And as Vince Cellini pointed out in our production meeting on Monday, Marks not the only Methuselah on the PGA TOUR whos recently breathed a second (and/or third) life into his respective career. Fred Funk, Woody Austin, and Steve Stricker have all put together impressive resurgences, inspiring all nilla-wafer-eating, Matlock-watching codgers in hearing-aid-assisted distance.
Ah, but back to baseball (and lets be honest, it really should always come back to our nations past-time). Incidentally, Calc turned professional in 1982 '- the same year that 49-year-old Julio Franco -- now with his ninth major league team; YOUR Atlanta Braves!-- also made his debut in the big leagues. Hmm. Franco had his most productive streak of seasons when he hit over .300 in every season from 1986 to 1989. Guess when Calc put together his most dominant consecutive years? Oh, in that same span: 1986 to 1989! (cue the Twilight zone music). Calc won at least one PGA TOUR event in each of those years, including his sole major victory in 89 at the British Open. What does this all mean? Absolutely nothing. Except that age is just a silly number and Brett Favre really is a pansy if hes quitting professional sports at the age of 38.
March to Augusta
Its almost Madness time, which means Gus Johnson is back in our lives. Eeeek! I cant think of anything more exciting in the world of sports broadcasting right now than his return to the national limelight. (unless you were to pit Digger Phelps against Lou Holtz in a televised pep talk duel-to-the-death? Why do we have to endure those, ESPN? ) Yeah, no singular voice rings in those ides of March and the NCAA hoops fever with more passion ' or with more authority! (sorry, Raftery) than the frenetic, hysterical screams of one Gus Johnson. Sadly, however, we only get a shot clock-like ephemeral time with this man of extraordinary vocal dexterity, as CBS utilizes him for only a few rounds of The Dance. But thats where golf should come in and take the lead. Golf needs Gus in the broadcast booth immediately. Set him up on the 18th -- simply on Sundays, if you like, but particularly in your Tiger-less tourneys, and let the mans voice-box explode. Guaranteed ratings-spike! Imagine Gus at Augusta in April! Suddenly, Nantzs Welcome Friends, seems lame and antiquated. Too outlandish a notion, you say? Hey, its not like Im suggesting something as ludicrous as a network hiring Bob Knight to provide tactful, tasteful broadcast-able commentary and analysis on college basketball every night.
The Tiger Woods' Effect
No, not THAT effect! Id like to know what has happened to all those poor souls who have been bonked, bruised, and banged-up by the sheer brute might of El Tigre over the years? While watching the WGC-Accenture Match Play a few weeks ago, I watched a marshal get drilled by an errant Woods drive on 13, and pondered out loud the amount of people Tiger has inadvertently injured over the years. Where are they? And how did that singular (and seemingly minor) event affect their life, if at all? At the Gallery of Dove Mountain that day, all the marshal received was a bloody gaping head-wound, a used Nike golf glove, and a worthless (not really! just kidding!) handshake from Tiger Woods. So where are these people? Did any of them sustain any lasting side-effects? Do they have battle scars about which they brag about to friends and family? And good heavens, how many times do they tell that dang story? [If youve taken a Woods Nike ball to the noggin, or just have a meaningful Tiger encounter you want to share, email me.]
And finally, onto the programming notes for the week ....
Inside the Ropes: Swingin and Rasslin
Our endearing British reporter Tom Abbott ambled into my office late afternoon Monday with hands wringing and a face full of worry. The poor chap was practically stricken with panic. And as it turns out, his anxiety was not completely unwarranted. You see, the bloke from Surrey, England had just received his newest journalistic assignment: play 18 holes with the WWEs Big Show: a 7-foot 2-inch (um, 470 lb.) wrestler whose signature move is, from what I understand, aChoke Slam. Now, I'm not terribly familiar with wrestling, but I can venture a solid guess as to what that procedure might entail. And one doesn't have to utilize the imagination too much, to further envision what could happen to our spindly, sprite Tom Abbott if he were to inadvertently provoke the Big Show (also known as 'The Giant') to anger -- or elicit even mild levels of annoyance. His finishing maneuver is called the 'Final Cut', after all. Oh, poor Tom. (Once the feature is shot -- and provided Mr. Abbott actually survives the ordeal -- it will air at the end of March on Golf Central. Stay tuned...)
DJs Rhythm Has Inspirational Beat
For a guy who was practically sentenced to a wheelchair due to his cerebral palsy, DJ Gregory walks with quite a determined stride. I caught a glimpse of him at Riviera a few weeks ago as I was scurrying about the course for an interview. You see, hes somewhat a celebrity now -- which is the way it should be.
DJ has no abductor muscles in his legs and has to lock his knees every step, creating a unique rhythm as he walks. But as hard as it is on his body, youd never know from his smiling face. Hes living every golfers dream this year: attending all 37 tournaments on the FedExCup schedule on the PGA TOUR. So far, hes walked 195 miles, that's 691 holes. And a total of 13,293 miles traveled. What started out as a dream has evolved into something so much more profound and far-reaching. Our Rich Lerner spent some time with D.J. recently and found out more about this courageous young man in our Golf Central spotlight this Saturday and Sunday. We hope you catch D.J.!
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Rahm, with blinders on, within reach of No. 1 at Torrey
SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.
The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.
Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.
It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.
“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”
Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.
According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.
“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”
Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.
And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.
As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.
He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.
“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.
Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.
“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”
Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.
Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.
“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.
Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.
Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1
SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.
After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.
With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.
“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.
“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”
Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy.
Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'
SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.
“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.
“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”
On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”
Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”
Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.
“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”
Tiger grouped with Reed, Hoffman at Torrey Pines
SAN DIEGO – Tiger Woods will make his 2018 debut alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman.
The threesome will go off Torrey Pines’ South Course at 1:40 p.m. ET Thursday at the Farmers Insurance Open. They begin at 12:30 p.m. Friday on the North Course.
Woods is an eight-time winner at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, but he hasn’t broken 70 in his last seven rounds on either course. Last year, he shot rounds of 76-72 to miss the cut.
Reed, who has grown close to Woods after being in his pod during the past two international team competitions, is coming off a missed cut last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Hoffman, a San Diego native, has only two top-10s in 20 career starts at Torrey.
Other featured groups for the first two rounds include:
• Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Brandt Snedeker: 1:30 p.m. Thursday off South 1, 12:20 p.m. Friday off North 10
• Rickie Fowler, Patrick Cantlay, Xander Schauffele: 12:30 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:30 p.m. Friday off South 1
• Phil Mickelson, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama: 12:40 p.m. Thursday off North 10, 1:40 p.m. Friday off South 1