Europe Fab Five Fades Into One Lone Light

By George WhiteMay 3, 2001, 4:00 pm
Scott Hoch was 45 years old when he won at Greensboro last week, and that put the mind to working. Fifteen years ago, when Hoch was 30, the hottest guys carrying a 7-iron were Europeans. There were five of them, each born within a year of the other. They won tournaments, majors and Ryder Cups. It looked like they would own golf the next 20 years. But my, what has happened to them as season after season has unfolded?
They are all 43 now, hardly the age to pack up the clubs and go sit by the fireplace. And yet, that is where Seve Ballesteros and Sandy Lyle appear headed. Nick Faldo doesn't appear to be too far off. Ian Woosnam has been wracked by injuries and he hasn't been a European Tour threat in five years. Bernhard Langer, alone among the group of five, is making the big purses, having earned almost a million dollars this year while playing in America.
Lyle was the first to drop off. A bewildering kink appeared in his game shortly after he won the Masters in 1988 lead to a series of mystifying finishes. He still hits the ball prodigious distances, but somewhere he lost his compass heading. The putter went south the same time the irons did, and 69s became 73s. He tried the American tour for awhile, it didn't work, and he began playing any place that would put out the welcome mat. Unfortunately, it appears the Gentle Man is finished.
Ballesteros no longer can make paychecks. He apparently didn't think he was good enough when he had the No. 1 game in the '80s, for whatever reason. He listened to everyone in the locker room, everyone on the driving range, finally everyone in the grocery store. He's gone to every top instructor that there is, never paying one. He now is, in a word, hopeless.
Faldo is another puzzle. He was, without a doubt, the greatest player walking upright in the late '80s and early '90s. He began to slip when he moved to the U.S. in 1995. By 1997, when he ended his professional relationship with instructor David Leadbetter, the metamorphosis was complete. Since then, he has gone through instructors almost as fast as Ballesteros. Some blame a confusing personal life, some say he was too much of a mechanical man. Whatever the reason, his plummet has been the biggest surprise.
Faldo's big problem is that he just doesn't get much distance out of his swing. His average swat is 261 yards, 189th on the Tour rankings. He ranks first in fairways hit, his putting is much better, but he sacrifices two and three clubs in length to other players. That, simply, is too much to overcome.
Woosnam has, in his own words, been 'lazy.' And he has been plagued with a problematic back. He has tried the short putter, the long putter, now back to the short putter. He may win again, but his days of being consistently successful are through.
Langer, alone among the five, has been surprisingly good since his return to the U.S. this year from Europe. He finished third in the Players Championship, tied for sixth in the Masters and tied for third at Hilton Head in his last three events.
That Fab Five was better than anything the Yanks could muster during those glory years. But what has happened in the meantime?
Well, 43 doesn't seem particularly old, not if you're playing on the U.S. tour. Hoch, for example, is probably better than any of them with the possible exception of Langer. Hal Sutton, himself 43, is playing his best golf ever. Tom Lehman is 42 and he remains a dangerous man. So does Mark Calcavecchia at 41. Scott Simpson at 45 made some serious noises last week before he finally acted his age.
But it's a shame, really. Ballesteros had been great for so many years, and it's such a shock to see him undergoing so much humiliation. He and Lyle can't make a cut. Faldo was such an artist in winning the six majors and holding down the top spot in the world rankings. Watching him fiddle-faddle now is torturous. Whatever happened to him? And Woosie should be in his glory years. Instead, nowadays it's hit-or-miss. And it's 'miss' much more often than 'hit.'
All these gentleman have done quite well financially, so that shouldn't be a problem. But unfortunately, we will have to live on memories. And memories are all they can offer.

More on Nick Faldo
More on Ian Woosnam
More on Bernhard Langer
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.