Nicklaus enjoys mentoring PGA Tour's new generation

By Doug FergusonApril 19, 2016, 10:21 pm

Justin Thomas could sense his expectations getting higher and his game going nowhere.

He was coming off a strong rookie year in 2015, contending a half-dozen times before breaking through for his first PGA Tour victory in Malaysia in October. But then he started the new year in a rut, and Thomas knew just what to do - no matter how awkward it might have seemed.

He asked Jack Nicklaus if he could come over to his house to talk.

''Very weird,'' Thomas said about making a call to the 76-year-old owner of 18 major championships. ''I was nervous to do it, but it was the coolest thing when I first met him. We had lunch before I got in The Bear's Club, and for someone of his status and how comfortable I felt around him, I give him a lot of credit for that. He didn't try to intimidate me or make me feel uncomfortable. As soon as you're around him, you're not nervous. It really speaks to his character.''

Nicklaus designs and builds golf courses. His business enterprise includes everything from wine to ice cream. He is heavily involved in the Nicklaus Children's Health Care Foundation. And in his latest role, he is a mentor to a burgeoning class of young golfers.

And he loves it.

''I don't know why they do it. They seem to think it's going to help them,'' Nicklaus said with a wink and a smile. ''I get a big kick out of it, sure. Why would you not get a big kick out of it? I'm 76 years old and I've got a 22-year-old kid coming here asking me for advice.

''How many 22-year-olds ask anybody for advice?''

Jordan Spieth spent time with him before his first Masters. Charl Schwartzel met with Nicklaus before he won the green jacket. So did Trevor Immelman.Rory McIlroy talks shop with the Golden Bear all the time, though rarely about the Masters. (Note to McIlroy: The man has six green jackets.)

''Just like approaching any of the greats of the game, one can be intimidated a little bit,'' Spieth said. ''But every time I've spoken to him, he's been very open and willing to help me. I think he's just rooting for the game of golf. It's not just me. He's doing it for everyone that I've seen around him.

''He's certainly been in our shoes, and we haven't quite been in the shoes that's he's been in,'' Spieth said. ''It's very, very nice of him, and I've enjoyed my time.''

Patrick Rodgers was at Muirfield Village two years ago to receive the Jack Nicklaus Award as college p layer of the year. Nicklaus stuck around to meet with Rodgers and the rest of the winners from various college divisions. Before leaving, he looked Rodgers right in the eye and told him, ''You ever need anything at all, just call me.''

Nicklaus didn't break eye contact until Rodgers nodded back.

Rodgers is on the growing list of young players who have taken Nicklaus up on his offer. That includes Jordan Niebrugge, who reached out to Nicklaus when he qualified for the 2014 Masters as the U.S. Public Links champion. A year later, Nicklaus sent him a hole-by-hole crib sheet on how to play St. Andrews when Niebrugge made it through local final qualifying for the British Open. Maybe it was a coincidence, but Niebrugge tied for sixth and was low amateur.

At their age, Nicklaus learned by watching more than listening. He would study the practice of Ben Hogan, Sam Snead, Julius Boros and Tommy Bolt and try to learn through imitation. It's different now. Nicklaus said he was lucky to see the greats twice a year. He sees these kids all the time, particularly at his Bear's Club in South Florida, where several of them now are members.

He doesn't teach anyone how to play golf. He just talks. And they listen.

''Justin came and we talked for a couple of hours. Just talked,'' Nicklaus said. ''I don't want to tell him what to do. I let him ask questions and I tried to feel how he's doing and what he's doing and how can I help his thought process. That's more what it was about.''

Nicklaus played his final major 11 years ago at St. Andrews. He was Presidents Cup captain for the last time in 2007.

He remains relevant, especially to the next generation.

''I've had a lot of guys come to me. Most of them are afraid to approach me,'' Nicklaus said. ''To have all these young guys want to listen to something an old man has to say? It's very flattering, and it's also very nice that they want to do that.''

Conversations can last a few minutes (Spieth) to a few hours (Thomas).

And sometimes, the education goes beyond golf.

''I walked in his house and I had my hat on,'' Thomas said. ''We sat down and he said, 'I hate to be that guy, but is it raining in here?' He laughed and said, 'Why do you have your hat on?' I forgot to take it off. I felt like an idiot.''

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.