Notes: Arnie still staying busy hitting balls

By Doug FergusonJune 22, 2016, 12:48 am

LATROBE, Pa. – Arnold Palmer didn't make a live television appearance at Bay Hill. For the first time, he didn't hit the ceremonial first tee shot at the Masters. He struggles with mobility, which kept him from attending the U.S. Open.

Just don't get the idea Palmer is slowing down entirely.

The day after the U.S. Open, he drove his golf cart up to the back entrance of his office across from Latrobe Country Club. The 86-year-old Palmer had just returned from hitting balls. And he was as frustrated as ever.

''I'm just not making very good contact,'' Palmer said. ''I'll get there.''

Palmer, who lost in a playoff at Oakmont in 1962 and played in his final U.S. Open there in 1994, watched the final round and like everyone else, questioned the USGA's handling of a penalty stroke on Dustin Johnson for his ball moving on the fifth green.

Palmer could relate. The conversation shifted to the 1958 Masters, as Palmer recalled a dispute with rules official Arthur Lacey over whether he was entitled to relief from an embedded ball on the fringe behind the 12th green. Told that he wasn't, Palmer declared he was playing two balls until he could reach the rules chairman. He made double bogey with the embedded ball, par with the second ball that he dropped. On the 15th hole, he was told he was right and would have a par on the 12th.

''I played two holes'' without knowing what he would he make on the hole, he said.

He was sharp. He was funny. And he is busy.

One of his projects is a book being published by St. Martin's Press called, ''A Life Well Played: My Stories.'' The book allows him to share new stories and provide more insight into old stories. In a release announcing the book, Palmer writes, ''Though I have written a number of books in the past, this one was particularly important to me because I delved into the process, I realized just how much I still wanted to say to my friends in golf and to fans of the game in general.''

The book is to be published at the end of October.

More evidence of how Palmer occupies his time was behind his desk. On a table was a stack of items nearly a foot high - photos, pin flags, books - from people around the world wanting to get them signed. His press secretary, Doc Giffin, said Palmer takes time every day to sign them. How long does he spend? Thirty minutes? An hour?

''Oh no,'' Giffin said. ''Sometimes, depending on how he's feeling, he'll do it for two or three hours.''

The British Open returns next month to Royal Troon, where Palmer won his second claret jug with a six-shot victory in 1962. When told he would be thought of during that week, Palmer came to life.

''I might be there,'' he said. ''I'm thinking about playing.''

There was a pause. There was a wink. There was a smile.

''Or maybe I'm just being ornery,'' he said.


CLOSE CALL: There is a fine line between positions in the world ranking that goes on every week, and sometimes it matters.

Last week was one of those occasions.

The end of the U.S. Open was the first cutoff to be in the top 50 and qualify for the Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, a World Golf Championship that offers a $9.5 million purse and a slight bump in FedEx Cup points.

Harris English was at No. 50 going into the U.S. Open, made the cut and then it was a matter of hanging on. He birdied the 17th hole, but missed a sharp-bending 12-foot par putt on the 18th and tied for 37th.

Then it was a matter of waiting, and hanging on. Jason Dufner closed with a 70 and at one point was in a three-way tie for eighth, which would have moved him to No. 50 by a fraction of a point. But late in the day, Daniel Summerhays made birdie on No. 17 and par on the final hole to make it a four-way tie for eighth and dilute some of Dufner's points.

The result? English remained at No. 50 with an average point total that was 0.0049 ahead of Dufner.


MASTERS PUTTER: Augusta National asks its champions each year to donate the one club that was pivotal in their Masters victories. If it gets the putter from Danny Willett, the club might have to wait until he gets it repaired.

Willett broke it in frustration late in the third round of the U.S. Open at Oakmont, though he didn't make it clear if the pace of play or missed putts was the culprit.

''The putter has been bad all week,'' he said. ''Just a bad week really on the greens. They're tricky to read, tricky to keep the pace and line the same. Obviously, the starting and stopping on Thursday, Friday, pace changed a little bit. ... Things just didn't quite go our way. One of them weeks.''

Willett said the putter was in two pieces and he'll get it refurbished.

''I won't be using it again,'' he said.

There was no special tie to that putter and his green jacket. Willett said there was ''a lot more than one club'' that carried him to a 5-under 67 in the final round and a three-shot victory. And he left open the possibility that the putter, once repaired, could earn its way back into the bag.

''I'll end up keeping it,'' he said. ''I don't know, I might pull it back out of retirement.''


U.S. OPEN MOMENT: Mike Van Sickle left his first U.S. Open earlier than he wanted, but not without one special moment.

Van Sickle received plenty of attention at Oakmont, not only because he grew up in the Pittsburgh area, but as the son as Sports Illustrated golf writer Gary Van Sickle. He has been grinding on the mini-tours and trying to Monday qualify to make his way.

He made it to the weekend, but only because of the rain delay. It was when he was warming up Saturday morning for his second round that it hit him.

''Some guy puts his Callaway balls way too close to me,'' Van Sickle said. ''I'm like, 'What's going on? I'm going to have to move down.'''

Nope. It was left-handed player - Phil Mickelson.

''Phil is hitting balls next to me and I turn around, and (Jim) Furyk is hitting balls behind me,'' he said. ''And I go to walk off the range and Phil says, 'Hey, Mike.' ... I walk back over and he shakes my hand. He said, 'Hey, I've been following your golf career since you were in college. I just want to wish you the best of luck out there today.'''

''That was by far the coolest moment of the week.''


DIVOTS: Jordan Spieth is returning to Australia for the third straight year. He said he would play Nov. 17-20 at Royal Sydney in the Emirates Australian Open, which he won in 2014. ... Lawyers for 168 caddies have filed an appeal seeking to overturn a ruling that dismissed their class-action lawsuit against the PGA Tour that they were treated as ''human billboards'' for having to wear bibs with a sponsor's logo. A federal judge in February dismissed with prejudice all seven of the contractual claims. ... Nick Raffaele, who headed up global sports marketing for Callaway Golf, has been named executive director of the CareerBuilder Challenge and chief executive of host organization Desert Classics Charities.


FINAL WORD: ''After last year, to come back this year and perform like this, I think it shows what kind of golfer I am.'' - Dustin Johnson after becoming the fifth player in the last century to go win the U.S. Open a year after being the runner-up.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.