Tales from the Tour: Phil's tee; Rory's autograph

By Doug FergusonDecember 31, 2014, 2:05 am

Jim Mahoney parted with a tiny piece of U.S. Open history with hopes it could change Phil Mickelson's luck.

It was a broken tee in a plastic bag.

''A souvenir that money can't buy,'' Mahoney said in a telephone interview from his home in Connecticut.

Mahoney brought the tee to the Deutsche Bank Championship, along with a letter explaining the circumstances around it. This was the last tee Mickelson used at Winged Foot in the 2006 U.S. Open. His drive sailed far to the left on the 18th hole, like so many of his tee shots that Sunday, and caromed off a tent. From there, Lefty made double bogey and finished one shot behind.

The U.S. Open remains the only major keeping him from the career Grand Slam. Winged Foot haunts him more than his other five runner-up finishes.

''I was on the tee at Winged Foot, me and a friend of mine,'' Mahoney said. ''Phil got out his driver and was bouncing the ball off the face. Phil looked over to the 17th green and there's a scoreboard. It showed that (Colin) Montgomerie had just double bogeyed the 18th. His whole demeanor changed. But he hits this horrendous slice.''

Thousands of fans who had crowded around the tee box took off down the sides of the fairway. Mahoney and his friend walked across the teeing ground.

''We're the only ones there. The marshals gave up,'' he said. ''They were the last group to hit. And there's Phil's tee.''

Even after it was over, Mahoney's said his friends told him he should put the tee on a plaque. Instead, he stored it in a drawer. He wanted Mickelson to win that day, as did half of New York. He roots for him at every major.

And that's why he thought it might help to give it back.

Mahoney approached Mickelson's caddie during the pro-am at the Deutsche Bank Championship in September. He simply handed him an envelope that contained the broken tee and the letter.

''I will trade the tee for a photo-op,'' said the letter, addressed to Mickelson and Jim ''Bones'' Mackay. ''You can make peace with it and win the Open in 2015. Good luck.''

Mackay was looking for Mahoney after the round for the photo. He never found him.

Moments like these give tournament golf its texture, stories that go beyond numbers on a scorecard and trophies on a mantle. Here are more from this year's collection of ''Tales from the Tour.''


Rory McIlroy had a long day at The Players Championship, and it wasn't over when he signed his card. There was an interview with Sky Sports, PGA Tour radio, Golf Channel, another radio station, the writers and then the PGA Tour's website.

A large crowd behind a gated section began calling out to him as McIlroy walked away, wanting his autograph. McIlroy looked at the crowd, then at the clubhouse.

That's when his caddie, J.P. Fitzpatrick, stepped in.

''Those kids over there have followed you all day,'' he told McIlroy. ''You need to sign for them.''

McIlroy reached for the pen in his back pocket, walked over to the kids and spent the next 15 minutes with them.


Monday at the PGA Championship was a time to get registered, maybe hit a few putts but otherwise take it easy during the busiest stretch of the year. Matt Kuchar intended to do just that, and he pulled up a chair at a patio table to join Jim ''Bones'' Mackay, the caddie for Phil Mickelson.

Mackay pointed out that Kuchar was sitting in a famous chair.

OK, it wasn't the same chair. But it's where Rocco Mediate was sitting at Valhalla during the 2000 PGA Championship. Mediate was close to qualifying for the Presidents Cup that year. The chair broke suddenly and Mediate injured an already tender back. He withdrew from the final major. He didn't make the Presidents Cup team.

That was before Kuchar joined the PGA Tour. He had never heard the story.

Kuchar was running errands that afternoon when he was stuck in traffic so long that he wound up with a sore back. Three days later, he withdrew from the PGA at Valhalla.

Beware the chair.


Jordan Spieth describes her as the girl who keeps the family grounded, and the funniest member of the Spieth clan.

That would be Ellie, his 14-year-old sister who was born with neurological challenges. And she was part of the entourage at the Deutsche Bank Championship, watching big brother Jordan on the golf course while walking with her other brother, Steven, who plays basketball at Brown. She was talking to anyone who would listen about her big brothers and what they do.

The gallery was held back behind the seventh green while players and their caddies got on carts to take them to the next tee. Spieth spotted his little sister and waved her over. Ellie ran to the cart and sat on her big brother's lap as they drove off.

She looked like the happiest person at TPC Boston. And so did Spieth.


British humor has no rival in golf.

At the annual caddie awards dinner at the HSBC Champions, a slide show presenting the year in golf was on the screen. Bubba Watson won the Masters. Martin Kaymer won the U.S. Open. Andrew Cotter of the BBC was the host for the dinner, and according to several caddies in attendance, Cotter mentioned how it wasn't long before one player took over the world of golf by winning two majors.

The dramatic commentary was accompanied by the next photo - Colin Montgomerie.


On Monday after the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, the course was filled with a few corporate partners and several members of the CBS Sports crew, mainly the staff that never gets attention or publicity for the invaluable work on the broadcast.

Jim Nantz treated this Monday like any other. He lives not far from the 18th green. His wife, Courtney, was in the final months of her pregnancy. Every morning, they take as beautiful of a walk as there is in golf along the coast at Pebble Beach to the par-3 seventh green, where they were married.

This walk took longer than usual. Each time Nantz passed a group from the CBS crew, they wanted to hear his commentary on their shots.

Nantz delivered, as he often does.


Patrick Rodgers of Stanford was honored at the Memorial with the Jack Nicklaus Award as college player of the year. That included a trip to Muirfield Village and a presentation hosted by Nicklaus.

That was memorable on its own.

Typical of Nicklaus, he stayed around after the presentation to talk with Rodgers and the rest of the winners from the various divisions. Looking at Rodgers right in the eye, Nicklaus said, ''You ever need anything at all, just call me.''

Nicklaus didn't break the eye contact until Rodgers nodded back.

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Spieth, McIlroy to support Major Champions Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:25 pm

Nick Faldo announced Tuesday the creation of the Major Champions Invitational.

The event, scheduled for March 12-14, is an extension of the Faldo Series and will feature both male and female junior players at Bella Collina in Montverde, Fla.

Jordan Spieth, Rory Mcllroy, Annika Sorenstam, Adam Scott, Henrik Stenson, Jerry Pate and John Daly have already committed to supporting the event, which is aimed at mentoring and inspiring the next generation of players.  

“I’m incredibly excited about hosting the Major Champions Invitational, and about the players who have committed to support the event,” Faldo said. “This event will allow major champions to give something back to the game that has given them so much, and hopefully, in time, it will become one of the most elite junior golf events in the world.”

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.

“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”

Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”

“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”


Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)


Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”

Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.

“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"

As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.

"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.

Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”