Musings from My Mind
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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Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long
Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.
Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.
"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"
The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.
Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.
"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."
Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.
"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.
"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.
"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."
Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA
Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.
Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.
Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.
With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.
Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.
“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”
Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.
Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday:
"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."
Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return
Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.
Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.
Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.
“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.
As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar
Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.
With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.
That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.
That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.
And that’s a magic word in golf.
There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.
Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.
The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.
Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.
A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.
The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.
Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.
For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.
The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.
The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.
“It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida. “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’
“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”
And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.
“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”
The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.
Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.
The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.
Parity was the story this year.
Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.
Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.
The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.
The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.
“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”
If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.
Parity was the theme from the year’s start.
There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.
This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.
Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.
She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.
The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.