Pepper leaving NBC Sports after eight years

By Doug FergusonDecember 18, 2012, 10:47 pm

Dottie Pepper learned the art of retirement at an early age.

In a practice round during her rookie season on the LPGA Tour, she wound up behind someone Pepper would describe as an aging veteran who had no business being out there. Pepper turned to her sister, who caddied for her that summer, and told her, ''Don't ever let me get to that point.''

Two years after her first shoulder surgery, when those blue eyes didn't blaze with quite as much intensity and Pepper began to realize there was more to life than chasing around a little white golf ball, she announced her retirement at the 2004 U.S. Women's Open when she was 38.

Her retirement Sunday after eight years with NBC Sports was not much different.

''I would have to say this is similar to when Barry Sanders retired because she's going out on top of her game,'' said Tommy Roy, NBC's executive producer of golf who gave Pepper a chance, coached and critiqued her, and was sorry to see her go. ''Her work this year on the FedEx Cup and the Ryder Cup was impeccable. You could take her work and make a 'how-to' tape for future broadcasters.''

Her last day at work was Sunday at the Father-Son Challenge in Orlando, Fla., the end of a ride that Pepper, 47, could not have imagined.

It was former NBC staffer John Goldstein who persuaded Roy to give her a shot at the '04 Women's Open, and Pepper took it from there. She started work in 2005 during the Florida swing on the PGA Tour, and then got her big break at her first U.S. Open that summer. She was assigned the next-to-last group, and walked the final round at Pinehurst No. 2 with the champion, Michael Campbell.

''You can't dream up an assignment like that,'' Pepper said. ''My very first Open and I walk in the winner.''

Just like her retirement from playing, however, Pepper caught herself pulled in another direction.

She was tired of the travel, for one thing, and she found her passion shifting to junior golf. The PGA of America called on her again, and this time, Pepper listened. She decided at the Ryder Cup to leave her role as the most prominent female golf analyst and join the PGA of America's board of directors, where she can work on developing junior golf programs.

Roy was effusive with praise.

''The great thing about Dottie is not many players could come over from the LPGA and analyze in a critical way how the PGA Tour players and still be respected by those players,'' he said. ''She garnered so much respect from the players. She came over and fit right in.''

That's all Pepper really wanted.

Roy said he would like to have another LPGA Tour player work the U.S. Women's Open next summer on Long Island, though it is not imperative for the NBC team to find another woman to fill Pepper's role. It was never about gender, and Pepper never saw it that way.

''It's been the greatest thing because I was treated as a reporter and an analyst, not because I was a woman,'' she said. ''I was expected to toe the line. No matter how bad the weather was, how tough the walk was, I was to do everything the guys did. And that's how I wanted it.''

She was never lacking in intensity and honesty, sometimes to a fault. She once was criticized for shouting, ''Yes!'' when her opponent missed a putt in the Solheim Cup. Roy laughed when recalling her early years with NBC. ''Everyone on the NBC golf team was scared to death of her from when she was a player,'' he said.

That intensity, however, led to her lowest moment in broadcasting.

Pepper was working the Solheim Cup for Golf Channel in 2007 when the Americans kept missing one pivotal putt after another. They had gone to a commercial break, but someone forgot to hit the switch. Thinking they were off the air, Pepper said, ''Choking, freakin' dogs!''

Only they weren't off the air, and her commentary got back to the Americans. Pepper didn't remember saying it and she didn't even find out about it until six hours later, when the telecast was over and a producer closed the door behind him and said, ''We've got a problem.''

''An enormously sick feeling,'' Pepper said. ''The thing that still stings about that is that there were people at Golf Channel who had already packed my bags. They had issued my resignation. And (senior programming director) Don McGuire said, 'No, that won't be the case. That was our fault.' I'll always be appreciative of him for that.''

Her sin wasn't being honest, rather it was being a cheerleader.

''That's what hurt the most,'' she said. ''I was bleeding with them, and as a broadcaster, you can't do that. You call your sport.''

Pepper wasn't sure she would recover from that, and there are still a few American players who won't speak to her. Once a shoo-in as a Solheim Cup captain, Pepper quickly became an afterthought except in the booth. That changed this year when Meg Mallon chose Pepper as one of her assistant captains for the 2013 matches in Colorado.

Will she be a captain someday?

''Only if I'm wanted,'' she said. ''People have to want you to be a captain.''

But she says her decision to leave broadcasting was in no way related to her future in the Solheim Cup.

It was simply time to move on to something else, which in this case is developing young American players at an early age. She has created a mascot called ''Bogey,'' a big range ball who is tired of his dead-end job and wants to be a player. Pepper is bringing ''Bogey'' to the PGA show next month. She describes him as ''a bridge so that golf isn't so scary to kids.''

Pepper has no idea how long her stint with the PGA of America will last, but odds are she'll get out when she's ready and not a moment too late.


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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.