Stat attack!: Valero Texas Open preview

By John AntoniniMarch 25, 2014, 8:07 pm

What a difference a course makes. Prior to the 2010 playing of the Valero Texas Open, the tournament moved from the LaCantera Resort to TPC San Antonio’s AT&T Oaks course. LaCantera was a haven for low scores. Tommy Armour set the PGA Tour’s 72-hole aggregate scoing record there with a 254 in 2003. TPC San Antonio has been anything but accommodating. The average winning score since 2010 is 276.75, more than 13 strokes higher than the 263 average at the par-70 LaCantera from 2006-2009. Martin Laird (pictured) won a year ago with a final-round 63 that tied the course record. From 2002 to 2009 there were 29 rounds of 62 or lower at LaCantera. TPC San Antonio ranked as the fifth hardest par-72 course on tour in 2013, after being the second toughest in 2011 and 2012. The fairways and greens have been among the hardest to hit each of the four years it has been used on Tour.

TPC San Antonio’s statistical ranking on Tour

 Year Scoring Rank Rank among par-72s Accuracy (rank) GIR (rank)
 2013 72.74 15 5 56.34% (13) 59.52% (7)
 2012 73.99 4 2 53.11 (9) 55.26 (4)
 2011 73.66 7 2 51.65 (5) 56.32 (4)
 2010 72.35 17 9 55.02 (6) 59.74 (7)

At 7,435 yards TPC San Antonio is so long that even the bombers have trouble keeping up. In the PGA Tour’s “Going for the Green” statistic – the number of times a players tries to reach the green in two on a par-5 or from the tee on a par-4 if it is a viable option – players made the attempt only 32 percent of the time. They were successful less than 12 percent of the time, the lowest figure on Tour in 2013. The course ranked second the previous three years. The par-5 holes were the hardest on Tour in 2011, second-hardest in 2012 and ranked fourth last year.

Going for the green at TPC San Antonio

 Year Going for the green (rank) Success rate (rank) Par-5 scoring (rank)
 2013 32.49% (4) 11.86 (1) 4.88 (4)
 2012 29.94 (2) 11.49 (2) 4.96 (2)
 2011 36.45 (6) 12.34 (2) 4.94 (1)
 2010 30.23 (4) 12.65 (2) 4.87 (3)

Laird, who beat Rory McIlroy by two strokes after making birdie on his last three holes, took more chances in 2013 than any other player in the field, trying for the green 60 percent of the time when it was a viable option. He only found the putting surface 8.33 percent of the time, which was actually lower than the field average, but the gambling paid off in the long run with the victory. Interestingly, in 2014, Laird’s success rate when trying for the green leads the Tour (33 for 63, 52.68 percent).

PGA Tour leaders in Going for the Green - Hit Green Percentage (*in the Valero field)

  Player Going for the Green Success Pct. Successes Attempts
 *Martin Laird 52.38% 33 63
 *Charlie Beljan 44.07 26 59
 *Danny Lee 42.86 21 49
 Robert Garrigus 39.08 34 87
 *Briny Baird 38.64 17 44

Laird, however, was not on his game at last week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Playing his first tournament since the birth of his son, Jack, earlier this month, Laird finished last among those who made the cut. Of those who finished in the top-10 at the API, only six are in the field at San Antonio.

Top finishers at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in the Valero field

 Player API finish Valero Texas Open history
 Jason Kokrak 4 Two starts, T-15 in 2013
 Erik Compton T-5 One start, WD in 2012
 Ryo Ishikawa T-8 Making his tournament debut
 Freddie Jacobson T-10 Seven starts, Second in 2010, 3 top-10s
 Sean O'Hair T-10 One start, T-58 in 2008
 J.B. Holmes T-10 Three starts, T-11 in 2011, T-13 in 2010

From that list, Freddie Jacobson stands out. In fact, the Swede has never missed the cut at the Valero, no matter where it’s been held, and has never finished worse than T-29.

Freddie Jacobson at the Valero Texas Open

 Year Finish Scores
 2013 T-15 70-74-71-69—284
 2012  T-18 68-76-71-72—287
 2011 T-5 72-75-67-69—283
 2010 2 71-69-65-70—275
 2009 T-5 66-66-68-67—267
 2007 T-21 66-65-71-69—271
 2004 T-29 68-68-64-72—272

Despite his stellar numbers, few eyes will be on Jacobson this week. Phil Mickelson is making his first appearance at San Antonio since a T-47 in 1992. He’s one of several former major champions who are making a rare appearance at the Valero Texas Open

Major champions in the field with less than three Valero Texas Open starts

 Player Majors Texas  Open starts Last appearance
 Phil Mickelson 5 1 T-47 in 1992
 Ernie Els 4 1 T-3 in 2010
 Jim Furyk 1 2 T-3 in 2013
 Retief Goosen 2 1 T-53 in 2013
 Padraig Harrington 3 1 T-10 in 2013
 Trevor Immelman 1 0  
 Geoff Ogilvy 1 2 T-23 in 2011
 Mike Weir 1 2 MC in 2011

What the Texas Open wouldn’t give to have had that group of players a few years ago. Mickelson and Els are looking at this week as key preparation for the Masters. Some of the others, notably Harrington, Immelman and Weir, are looking to get their game back on track.

One final thought: Once the event moved to TPC San Antonio, previous tournament experience became less important than it is at most events. Three of the last four winners - Adam Scott in 2010, Brendan Steele in 2011 and Ben Curtis in 2012 - were all playing the Texas Open for the first time. Laird was making his third appearance in 2013, but runner-up McIlroy was making his Valero debut. Among those making their first appearance this week are Puerto Rico Open winner Chesson Hadley and Ryo Ishikawa, who is 26th on Tour in the FedEx Cup standings.

If you haven't already done so, please follow me on Twitter at @johnantoninigc

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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.