Notes: Harmon takes offense at link to Woods

By Doug FergusonFebruary 26, 2013, 7:14 pm

Butch Harmon first worked with Steve Elkington in the 1980s, and his roster of clients has grown enormously over the years. He coached Greg Norman and Tiger Woods during their rise to No. 1, along with four players in the World Golf Hall of Fame – Ernie Els, Phil Mickelson, Jose Maria Olazabal and Fred Couples.

But when he worked with President Barack Obama at The Floridian, he was referred to only as Woods' former swing coach.

''I haven't been with him for 10 years. It's irritating to be honest,'' Harmon said. ''I guess they were looking for a connection because the president was playing with Tiger. But people think Tiger made me successful. No one remembers I took Greg to No. 1 in the world or all the work with Elkington, or Davis Love III. It's the press. Anything to sensationalize. And you're dealing with a White House press that doesn't know any of these names.''

Hank Haney, on the other hand, expects to be linked with Woods the rest of his life. Then again, Haney didn't have such a long list of top golfers (except for Mark O'Meara) before coaching Woods, and he has said he won't coach another.

''It's a big honor to have coached Tiger,'' Haney said. ''You couldn't have a better feather in your cap, especially with the success that Butch Harmon had with Tiger. In terms of my coaching career, obviously nothing can come close to the opportunity I had to work with Tiger Woods.

''I never hit any shots and Butch didn't, either,” he said. ''My friend Bill Parcells always says it best. 'You are what your record says you are.' And so how Tiger played while you coached him certainly has a lot to say about you as a coach.''


AUGUSTA ON THEIR MINDS: Russell Henley said he couldn't feel his arms or legs on the back nine of the Sony Open. He was trying to win his first PGA Tour event, and Georgia was on his mind.

''I was trying not to think about Augusta out there,'' Henley said after his win, which earned him a spot in the Masters.

Scott Piercy won the Canadian Open last summer and talked about a promise he made to himself to not go to Augusta National unless he was in the Masters field. Ted Potter Jr. said it was a career goal to play in Masters after he qualified by winning The Greenbrier Classic.

These stories likely are to weigh heavily on Augusta National chairman Billy Payne when he decides whether Tour winners in the fall will be invited to the Masters. Payne could announce changes to the criteria during his Wednesday news conference at the Masters.

Augusta National returned to its practice of inviting Tour winners the year after the FedEx Cup began in 2007. But there was a caveat. The club invited winners only of Tour events that offered full FedEx Cup points. The opposite-field events, and the Fall Series held after the FedEx Cup ended, didn't count.

The Tour, however, is going to a wraparound season after this year. That means the six tournaments in the fall will be included in the 2013-14 FedEx Cup season.

The question for Augusta National is whether the winners of those six events will earn a trip down Magnolia Lane.

The club and Tour have been talking about it the last several months, and one person involved described the discussions as positive.

The Masters has the smallest field of the majors and wants to keep it that way to enhance the experience of those playing. It has not had more than 100 competitors since 1966, though it has come close in recent years, with 99 in the 2011 tournament.

The most likely scenario is for the Masters to take the winners of the six fall events and eliminate the category of top 30 on the Tour money list.

To follow that model a year ago, there would have been two fewer players at the Masters and three fewer players in 2011 and 2010. And with the U.S. Amateur Public Links soon to go away, that would free up another spot.

The Masters got away from inviting Tour winners in 1999. That was the same year the World Golf Championships began, and with the WGCs came opposite-field events the same week. That's a polite way of saying ''watered-down fields,'' and the Masters did not deem those winners worthy of an invitation.

Gabriel Hjertstedt won in Tucson the week of the inaugural Match Play Championship. He remains the only opposite-field winner to get invited to the Masters.

When it stopped inviting winners after 1999, the club said it was interested in the most consistent player throughout the year. That's why the Masters is likely to continue taking the 30 players who qualify for the Tour Championship.

And perhaps it's no coincidence that the Tour is looking to tweak its FedEx Cup points system so that one high finish in the playoff events doesn't get a player to East Lake (see Chez Reavie in 2011) and qualify him for three majors, including the Masters.


REST VS. RUST: Ian Poulter was never tempted to return to golf earlier than he planned, and it worked out just fine for him. After a six-week break following Kapalua, he returned at the Match Play and reached the semifinals, before losing to Hunter Mahan and then Jason Day in a meaningless consolation match.

His quarterfinal match was a perfect example of how players can be sharp, even after a long break. He beat Steve Stricker, who also had not played in six weeks.

''I guess I was glad to beat a part-timer,'' Poulter said.

Poulter said he did not play a single round over the last four weeks of his break or even one hole on a golf course. He spent his time on the range, tuning his equipment. It reminded him of the early days working in a golf shop, when his duties left him no time to play on the course.

''I had time to practice, and that's what I do when I have time off,'' he said.

Some players have had time off, though not by choice.

Rory McIlroy goes into The Honda Classic with three competitive rounds this year, having missed the cut in Abu Dhabi and losing in the first round of the Match Play.


OPEN QUALIFIER: Tianglang Guan will find out this week if the 14-year-old from China gets to play in two majors this year.

Guan earned a spot in the Masters, when he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur late last year. The win also put him in the International Final Qualifying for the British Open, and the teenager is in the Asia qualifier. It starts Thursday at Amata Spring in Thailand, where he won the Asia-Pacific Amateur.

Four spots are available.

Also in the field are Cheng-tsung Pan of Taiwan, the runner-up to Guan and the highest-ranked Asian amateur at No. 5; and Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, a two-time winner of the Asia-Pacific, who made the cut both times he played in the Masters.


DIVOTS: The OHL Classic at Mayakoba, held opposite the Match Play Championship the last six years, moves to November this year. Tournament officials were at Dove Mountain with a clever recruiting tool and to remind players of the date change. They gave players an iPad with their names engraved, loaded with information about the Mexican beach resort. ... Golf Channel altered its programming last week to show live coverage of the Women's Australian Open, where 15-year-old Lydia Ko was tied for the lead going into the final round. It had an audience of 288,000 viewers for a 0.22 rating. ... Trump Doral has signed on as the host course for the World Golf Championship event through 2023. ... Bo Van Pelt and Mark Wilson were elected co-chairmen of the player advisory council, meaning they will join the policy board next year.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Americans have won the last 10 official Tour events, their longest streak since 11 in a row from the 2010 Barclays through the 2011 Sony Open.


FINAL WORD: ''If they happen to play poorly at Augusta, those two, I think it's going to be a tough year for them as far as winning majors.'' – Johnny Miller, on Woods and McIlroy.

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

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.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

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

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

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.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


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.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.