Notes: Azinger began belly-putter craze by accident

By Doug FergusonNovember 20, 2012, 11:18 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – If not for Paul Azinger picking up a long putter that belonged to a short man, there might not be such a fuss over belly putters.

The U.S. Golf Association and R&A are close to announcing their position on long putters that are anchored to the body. That they have pledged to make an announcement by the end of the year has most believing a ban is imminent.

If that's the case, the guy who started it all thinks that would be a shame.

''Everybody is looking to improve their game,'' Azinger said in an interview last week. ''That technique is good for some, and it didn't work for others.''

What befuddles him is the advancements in equipment over the last 20 years, particularly with golf clubs. He referred specifically to the Great Big Bertha driver, which at the time looked enormous and had a big sweet spot. Azinger was only partially joking when he said that club now looks like a 4-wood.

''It's OK for manufacturers to figure out game improvement,'' Azinger said. ''But if a player figures it out, we're going to ban it?''

For the former PGA champion, it was more of a fluke.

He was putting poorly when he went into the pro shop while at home in Florida in late 1999, grabbing putters of the rack when he came across a long putter that is anchored to the chest. Only this one belonged to someone much shorter than Azinger.

''I grabbed it, was lining it up perfect and stuck it into my belly because of the length,'' Azinger said. ''I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything and then walked outside and made everything.''

Azinger checked to make sure it was legal, and he was on his way. At the mixed-team event, he says he made 13 birdies and an eagle in two days of fourballs with Se Ri Pak as his partner. Alas, they lost in a playoff to John Daly and Laura Davies. Azinger took his belly putter to Hawaii and won the Sony Open by seven shots.

But here's the other side to this magical belly putter – he never won again. And he was quick to point out that while three of the last five major champions had a belly putter, it took 11 years before someone (Keegan Bradley) won a major.

''Then all of a sudden, it's being looked at because some guys have success doing it,'' Azinger said. ''You don't see guys shooting 57, 58, 59 with the belly putter. ... It can help you – there's no two ways about it. But it's not helping everybody.''

In a subsequent text message, Azinger again suggested that the USGA and R&A were concerned about the wrong piece of equipment.

''The belly putter doesn't guarantee you'll putt better,'' he said. ''But today's drivers will guarantee you'll hit the ball farther.''


WORKING FOR A LIVING: Inbee Park won the LPGA money list and was the only player to crack $2 million. The LPGA had 11 players earn at least $1 million, up from eight players a year ago. But it's a different story toward the bottom.

The top 90 keep their cards, and the final spot went to Jee Young Lee, who earned $68,650. Compare that with Kevin Chappell, who got the last spot on the PGA Tour at No. 125 on the money list with $647,510. Tougher still is that the LPGA has a number of limited-field events, particularly late in the year in Asia, that only takes the top players.

It's enough to make Cristie Kerr preach about the LPGA not being the glamor life for everyone.

''It's hard for a lot of these girls. It really is,'' Kerr said. ''If you're not one of the top players ... unless you're finishing in the top 20, it's really hard to make money. Expenses are high, and purses aren't what they are on the PGA Tour. Somebody barely making the cut is losing money every week unless you stay in free housing and can get a free car. It's an expensive life.''

Is there much incentive for women to chase their dreams on the LPGA? Kerr isn't so sure.

''I love to win. I love to compete. And I'm good at it. I'm fortunate,'' Kerr said. ''If you're 70th or 80th on the money list, it's not very motivating.''


MOVING ON: Those who failed to make it out of the second stage of Q-School last week face an uncertain future if they don't have limited status as a past champion. That group includes Jamie Lovemark, who won the Nationwide Tour money title two years ago, and Hank Kuehne, who made a double bogey on his last hole.

Past champions who failed to get through included a former Ryder Cup player (Chris Riley), two former Presidents Cup players (Carlos Franco and K.T. Kim), along with Cameron Beckman, Joe Durant, Jesper Parnevik and Chris Smith.

Among those moving to the final stage next week in California were Todd Hamilton, Robert Karlsson and Kevin Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway.

Perhaps the most intriguing was Si Kim of South Korea, the medalist at Bear Lake in California, on the strength of a 61 in the second round.


TO THE BOOTH: Former PGA champion Rich Beem failed to make it through the second stage of Q-School last week, leaving him only limited status as a past winner for what would appear to be limited room in a short season. So what's next for the Beemer?

Perhaps a move to the broadcast booth – in Europe.

Beem said he has been contacted by Sky Sports to do commentary for PGA Tour events that are shown in Europe, similar to what Butch Harmon does at the majors and the World Golf Championships. He says his experience is limited, though the job would come naturally to him.

''I've got the gift of gab,'' Beem said. ''I am full of a lot of things.''

Beem worked for TNT Sports at the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits, with two days for the 3-D coverage on the par-3 11th and par-3 17th, and then Saturday and Sunday covering the marquee group.


DIVOTS: Titleholders winner Na Yeon Choi has donated $30,000 to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program to provide golf equipment to young girls starting out in the game. ''I want to give the girls my message. Have a dream, and achieve it,'' Choi said. ... Of the regular PGA Tour events, the AT&T National at Congressional played the most difficult. Tiger Woods, the winner, was among only 14 players to break par, and the course played an average of 2.046 strokes over par. ... The Players Championship raised $6.5 million for local charities, breaking its record of $5.9 million from last year. ... Five Americans won on the LPGA this year, the most since 2008. ... Only three players in their 40s – Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els – won on the PGA Tour, the lowest number over the last 10 years. ... Gary Player will be co-host of the iGATE CEO Cup on Jan. 12-13 at TPC Sawgrass. The tournament is inviting CEOs of Global 2000 companies to compete for a $100,000 purse, with all earnings going to their chosen charities.


(MOST PECULIAR) STAT OF THE WEEK: Mickelson saved par nine times after hitting into the water, the most of anyone on the PGA Tour this year.


FINAL WORD: ''Congratulations on a successful surgery.'' – Stacy Lewis during her acceptance speech as LPGA Player of the Year, to Gary Brock, the doctor who inserted a steel rod and five screws in her back 10 years ago because of her scoliosis.

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.

McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.” 

And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.

“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.” 

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Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 12:44 pm

No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.

Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.

With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.

“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”

Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson. 

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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.