Notes: Mickelson to keep it simple at Open Championship

By Doug FergusonJuly 15, 2013, 11:25 pm

Fresh off a Scottish Open victory, Phil Mickelson showed up at Muirfield for the first time in 11 years and didn't take long to figure out his strategy for the British Open. He wants to keep it as simple as possible and try to make easy pars.

He didn't take the easy route on the par-5 17th, however.

Mickelson couldn't resist the temptation of the dunes right of the green. He placed the ball on the upward slope, even with the flag, and attempted his favorite trick shot - hitting a lob wedge that goes backward. With a full swing, the ball went up and over his head, landed on the green and stopped about 6 feet away.


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But it was only Monday, a day of practice.

''It is fun to come in with a win, but now it's time to focus on Muirfield and try to learn the nuances,'' Mickelson said. ''What I'm looking for is how to make easy pars, how to get the ball in the fairway easily, how to get it up and around the greens without a lot of stress, without having to hit perfect shots. Because imperfect shots will be magnified by the wind.''

Mickelson has not had much success in the Open. He finished one shot out of a playoff in 2004 at Royal Troon in what he considers his best week in the British Open. Two years ago, he made a Sunday charge that came up three shots short at Royal St. George's.

He is trying to understand how to play the game on the ground, so typical of links golf, but he said Muirfield is a course that sometimes requires the ball to travel more in the air to cover some of the pot bunkers short of the green.

Mickelson finished toward the bottom of the pack in 2002 at Muirfield. He missed the nasty weather on Saturday that derailed so many other players, but failed to take advantage of the calm conditions and shot 76. He tried to come down on Tuesday of last week for a practice round, but he didn't make it. That means he will be spending more time playing the course than he does at other majors.

Take Merion, for example.

Mickelson did most of his preparations a week before the U.S. Open, so he had no trouble flying home across the country to San Diego for his daughter's eighth-grade graduation and returning overnight in time for his Thursday morning tee time. He nearly won the U.S. Open.

At other majors, it's not unusual for him to play one full practice round at the course and go elsewhere the rest of the week until the opening round. But he knows those courses. Muirfield requires getting reacquainted.

''This week I'll spend more time on the golf course,'' he said. ''Being able to be here and have a few quiet days is good.''

His wife and three children were with him at Castle Stuart in the north of Scotland last week. They dropped him off Monday and headed to Barcelona for a few days until the championship begins.


FATIGUE FACTOR: Ernie Els has won major championships 18 years apart, and one big difference is the reaction of the media and the time commitments. It can be exhausting, and last year's win at Royal Lytham & St. Annes was even tougher because he wanted to honor his sponsor's commitment by playing in the Canadian Open the next week. He never really recovered the rest of the year.

It wasn't like that in 1994 when he won the U.S. Open at Oakmont.

''I think I did Matt Lauer and ''Today'' - Katie Couric was there still back in the day - did a little thing with them,'' he said. ''Went back to the 18th green at Oakmont, and that was the only thing. I didn't even own a house in those days. I got back on my plane, myself and (wife) Leizl, and flew back to London. We rented a cottage from Renton Laidlaw, and we just hid from the world there.

''The whole thing has changed a lot, especially since '94,'' he said. ''There are so many story lines that people want. So it can get very, very busy.''


HANSON'S BACK: Peter Hanson has been struggling with a sore back, and he's still not sure if he'll tee it up Thursday. The Swede said it was 50-50 he would play.

''I thought the disk problem in my back was getting better, but then it starts to feel worse,'' Hanson said.

Hanson had planned to play The Greenbrier Classic and the following week, either in America or Scotland. But there was a rain delay at The Greenbrier, and he couldn't move when play resumed so he had to withdraw. He came straight to Scotland to work with his physical therapist trying to get ready.

The key was going to be Tuesday.

''If I can play nine holes pain-free, then that will be the key to my playing or not,'' he said.

The first alternate if he were to withdraw is Joost Luiten of The Netherlands.


THE FRENCH CONNECTION: Thomas Levet was part of the four-man playoff at Muirfield in 2002, and he went one extra hole of sudden death before making bogey on the 18th hole and losing to Ernie Els. He didn't qualify to play this year. Neither did the other two from that playoff, Stuart Appleby and Steve Elkington.

Levet is doing TV work, and he said it's been tough.

''I am fine here in the practice range, but when I walk back among the crowd it is difficult because everyone keeps reminding me of what happened in 2002,'' Levet said. ''I think I've signed 20,000 autographs already this week, so it is very difficult.''

France at least is represented by Gregory Bourdy, so maybe he can get atonement from his country.

''The question to Gregory is, 'Who will be only the second French player to win the British Open,''' Levet said. ''And the answer this week will be, 'Gregory Bourdy.'''

Arnaud Massy in 1907 at Royal Liverpool is the only Frenchman to win a claret jug. Jean Van de Velde nearly joined him in 1999 at Carnoustie when he took a three-shot lead into the final hole. Van de Velde famously made triple bogey and lost in a playoff.


DIVOTS: Ben Curtis is back with a familiar face on the bag. He has reunited with Andy Sutton, the English caddie he hired in 2003 to work for him at Royal St. George's when Curtis shocked the golfing world by winning the British Open. ... Charles Howell III would have been the second alternate, but he withdrew from the Open on Sunday when Jordan Spieth qualified by winning the John Deere Classic. If Zach Johnson had won the Deere, then Joost Luiten would have gotten in, and Howell would have moved up to the first alternate position. ... Harris English was among those who flew over on the charter from the John Deere Classic. He looked tired, but still managed to get in nine holes of practice to stay awake. He at least received some great instruction. English was joined for nine holes by Ernie Els, the defending champion and 2002 winner at Muirfield.

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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.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.