Short hitter Donald shows there is other ways to the top

By Doug FergusonSeptember 20, 2011, 11:09 pm

ATLANTA – Luke Donald is unlike any other No. 1 player in golf over the last two decades.

No, he still hasn’t won a major.

What sets Donald apart from Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer most recently, from Tiger Woods for an entire decade, and from Vijay Singh and David Duval during their brief stay at the top, is the way he hits the ball.

In an era of extra large off the tee, Donald still wears a medium.

He is No. 147 in driving distance, and while Donald isn’t exactly a peashooter, no one will ever talk about how he can overpower any golf course except for the Par 3 Course at Augusta National.

The only numbers that matter, however, is that he has been No. 1 in the world longer than anyone else this year. He is No. 1 in Vardon Trophy for the lowest adjusted scoring average. He is No. 1 on the European Tour money list and No. 2 on the PGA Tour money list, with a chance to become the first player to win money titles on both sides of the Atlantic.

And along with three wins this year, he has finished out of the top 10 in only five of the 20 tournaments he has played this year.

In some respects, he has become an inspiration to those who don’t fall out of bed and crack 300-yard drives.

“Getting to No. 1, a lot of people wouldn’t have thought I could get there with my kind of a game,” Donald said. “I’m more of a traditional player. That’s kind of my legacy right now, that I’ve been able to get to No. 1 without being a modern-day player. Through hard work and a little bit of thought, I’ve been able to do it.”

Mark Wilson, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour this year who is No. 132 in driving distance, has been paying attention to his limitations for years. He drew inspiration from Zach Johnson winning the Masters in 2007, when he laid up on the all the par 5s; from Jim Furyk winning the FedEx Cup last year and reaching No. 2 in the world when Woods was at his peak; and most recently, from Donald.

“I remember there was talk 10 years ago how there’s no way a Justin Leonard or a Luke Donald or a Mark Wilson could be No. 1 in the world because they don’t hit it far enough,” Wilson said. “I’ve gotten really mature in the last 12 months to work more on my wedges and realize that’s where the game ultimately lies.

“It is an inspiration to see Luke at No. 1 in the world. He’s always at the top of the leaderboard.”

There’s no reason to think that cannot continue, even if the traditional game is becoming less common. Power will always have an advantage in golf. It was like that for Bobby Jones and for Jack Nicklaus. John Daly made power golf appealing 20 years ago. Woods refined it.

It’s becoming harder to find a promising young player who doesn’t smash it.

“Most of the guys you see coming out now, they all bomb it,” said Dustin Johnson, who does just that. “It seems like that’s kind of a trend now. I don’t know any guys that have come out in the last couple years that were short hitters that are at the top of the PGA Tour.”

The mistake can be chasing after distance.

Matteo Manassero, the 18-year-old from Italy who already has won twice on the European Tour, talks about trying to add distance, even though he has spent his young career making sure his short game is immaculate because it has to be. It has worked so far.

“I chase it every week,” said David Toms, whose 13 career tour wins include a major. “It seems like I ask for another driver every week and always go back to the same one.”

The year after winning the PGA Championship, Toms played the opening round at Hazeltine with Woods and Ernie Els, two power hitters that made him question what he was doing out there. Then again, this has gone on for years, and Toms has lost track of how many times his wife got tired of listening to it. Her message: He’s done all right with what he has.

“It was funny, I had just gotten back from Boston when I played with Bubba the first or second day,” Toms said. “My son asked me something about his golf swing. I said, ‘Don’t worry about your swing, you need to go to the weight room.’ And that’s when she went off on me again.”

The danger of chasing distance is ruining what already was working. Donald tried that himself in 2007, when he was obsessed with more distance to the point it affected a classic swing. He also wonders if it contributed to a wrist injury a year later that led to surgery and kept him out of the Ryder Cup. Those were lean times.

He might not hit it far, but he hits it far enough. And it doesn’t hurt that his work ethic is as strong as anyone in golf.

Few can appreciate what Donald has done better than Justin Leonard, who turned pro just as professional golf was becoming all about power. Leonard went nine years without missing a Tour Championship. He won 12 times, including the British Open. He lost in a playoff at two other majors and was the 54-hole leader in another.

But he never chased length. He went to Butch Harmon to simplify his game and returned to Randy Smith for familiarity.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Leonard said Tuesday. “I’m not trying to hit the ball shorter. But I’m not on this Phil Mickelson quest to see how far I can possibly hit the ball. What’s another 5 or 10 yards going to do for me? Yeah, it can make a difference. But I know my game is to put the ball in the fairway, play low-stress golf, rely on my wedge game and putting, and course management.”

It’s not an advantage over guys who hit it forever.

As Donald has shown, it still works.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.