Notes Masters on Mickelsons mind Top 100 courses
Mickelson is playing the Houston Open this week because he prefers to compete the week before a major. But given his disdain for the works of Rees Jones, who designed Redstone Golf Club, he said he will play shots that might not make a lot of sense, all to get ready for Augusta National.
“Houston is not going to set up well for me,” Mickelson said last week.
His biggest complaint is that the fairways narrow after about 285 yards off the tee, which tends to limit power players to a 3-wood off the tee. Mickelson plans to hit driver, anyway.
“It’s not going to be a course where I’m going to play the most strategic and expect to really score well,” he said. “I’m just not going to hit 3-woods off the tee and play that course strategically the week before Augusta. And then when it gets windy and I’m trying to hit high balls for Augusta, and it requires a low, knockdown shot … it’s not going to work.”
This is a week where he’s not interested in results.
Mickelson doesn’t believe he has to win before he gets to the Masters – last year was proof of that – as long as he feels good about his game. He recalls starting to feel confident at Houston a year ago.
He also could put two drivers in play at Augusta. Mickelson said he has a similar driver to when he won the Masters in 2006, with 5.9 degrees of loft and a 46-inch shaft.
“And it goes,” he said with a smile. “Yeah, it really goes.”
TOP 100 COURSES: Augusta National again is No. 1 in Golf Digest’s biennial ranking of “America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses,” beating out Pine Valley Golf Club by a fraction of a point.
The most peculiar change about this year’s list is the title. Because of a tie for 100th place between two South Carolina resorts (Harbour Town and Ocean Forest) there actually are 101 courses on the list.
Augusta National has been No. 1 on the last two lists. The only other time in the last decade that Pine Valley didn’t top the list was in 2001, when Pebble Beach beat out the private New Jersey club.
The full top 10: Augusta National, Pine Valley, Shinnecock Hills, Oakmont, Cypress Point, Pebble Beach, Merion, Winged Foot, Sand Hills and National Golf Links.
Of the nine courses not in the previous ranking, the highest-rated was The Alotian Club in Arkansas at No. 14.
Golf Digest has produced “America’s 100 Greatest” list since 1966. The package, which also includes the 100 best public courses and a ranking for each state, appears in the May issue of the magazine, which will be available April 5.
Q-SCHOOL STORY: The PGA Tour is contemplating the radical change of handing out only Nationwide Tour cards at Q-School, in part to make sure promising young players are properly prepared for the big leagues.
Neale Smith can understand that thinking better than most.
Smith, an Australian living in Southern California, works as a mental coach for the likes of Hunter Mahan and Jason Day and as a swing coach for other players. In a previous life, he was one of the biggest surprises to make it through Q-School.
As a graduate assistant at Cal State-Fullerton, he taught golf among other activities. When he finished his master’s degree, Smith was good enough to break par and idealistic enough to chase his dream. An exceptional athlete – he competed at the 1984 Olympic trials in the high jump until getting injured – Smith dabbled in a couple of mini-tour events before trying Q-School.
He barely made it through the first two stages, and it all came together in the final stage at the TPC Woodlands, where he shared medalist honors with Brett Ogle, Skip Kendall, Massy Kuramoto and Percy Moss. Before he knew it, he was a PGA Tour member.
“I seriously thought I was going to be up there for 20 years,” Smith said. “But I had so little experience in tournament golf.”
He laughs now at his routine. Smith said he would stretch and work out for two hours, then go through a regular warm-up on the range and play his round. He would be the last one on the range that night. He also fiddled with new equipment.
“If there are eight rookie errors, I made at least six of them,” he said. “All the stupid stuff you shouldn’t do, I did it. And it’s a huge gap from Q-School success to success on Tour.”
That much was obvious by his results. He made only six cuts in 22 tournaments in 1993. His best finish was his last tournament of the year, a tie for 64th in the Texas Open. He wound up making $11,413 and was 234th on the money list.
He never made it back.
Smith’s amazing rags-to-riches tale got enough attention to earn sponsor exemptions in Australia, and he spent the next several years playing the Canadian Tour. He tried Q-School eight more times without getting through.
“One of my only regrets is that after being a touring pro for four or five years, I didn’t get another shot,” he said. “I was more prepared. I really knew what I was doing. There were so many other things I didn’t know how to do after I got my card. I learned over time. If I had ever gotten through Q-School again, I would have had a much more legitimate chance.”
The Tour’s proposal is for PGA Tour players who failed to finish in the top 125 to compete in a three-event “playoff” with top Nationwide Tour players to determine who gets PGA Tour cards the next year. The only cards available at Q-School would be for the Nationwide Tour.
The concern is losing out on stories like Smith.
“It takes some of the romanticism out of Q-School. Some of the stories seem compelling,” Smith said. “But I also think the Nationwide Tour is a much fairer test to see if you can survive. Some guys can get up there, but they’re not good enough to stay up there.”
DIVOTS: During the induction ceremony for the National Black Golf Hall of Fame, keynote speaker Steve Mona of the World Golf Foundation said plans were under way for a special exhibit at the World Golf Hall of Fame that would tell the story of blacks’ journey in golf. He said the exhibit would open in 2012. The inductees were Joe Louis Barrow, Jr., CEO of The First Tee; golf entrepreneur Rose Harper and Calvin Sinnette, author of “Forbidden Fairways.” … Martin Laird’s win at Bay Hill was the 300th by a Nationwide Tour alumnus. … Nick Watney has earned the most ranking points this year, slightly more than Martin Kaymer and Mark Wilson.
STAT OF THE WEEK: Only three players among the top 50 in the world ranking were not there at the start of the year.
FINAL WORD: “I still have yet to play a great par 5 that’s over 600 yards.” – Jim Furyk.
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."
Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage
Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.
Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.
Swipe to see what’s up in my world. It’s long-winded.... short version, we lost the baby. Had to share this since we had shared the news already. I know you’re all so supportive and kind. I just couldn’t face it before. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. #ihavealotoffeelings #andphotostocatchupon
“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”
The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.
“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.
The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.
Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.
The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.
A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.
And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18