Hail to Hale Irwin King of the Elders
And though Irwin is 59, hes still winning Champions Tour majors. He won the latest last week - the Senior PGA Championship. At an age when the elder gents are seriously throttling back their careers, Irwin is still playing like a youngster.
Irwin realizes he is past the age when men continue winning championships, regardless of the sport. Many people ' including probably him ' thought he was finished when he suffered a back injury the middle of last season. But here he is, whuppin up on the youngsters like he has been doing the last nine years.
I'm very proud, he said after his latest win, and there wasnt a bit of braggadocio in his voice. I'm not satisfied, but I'm proud.
I mean, I'm not satisfied in the sense that I'm just going to sit back and that's the end of it. But I think at the stage where I am in my career and still be able to go out and play the kind of golf that I'm capable of playing - particularly in light of a year ago at this time, I was in severe spasms with my back and sat out a good part of the summer and really kind of had to learn how to play golf with a different kind of a swing. Knowing what I can do and what I can't do, I'm still in that learning curve.
Say what? You mean Irwin beat them with a tweaked swing? He couldnt launch it anymore with the old windup ' the back just wouldnt allow it. So he had to improvise at this advanced age. And all he did was win the danged tournament.
Irwin has always kind of reminded me of an older Annika Sorenstam. Hes not flashy at all, just like Annika. His swing is compact, not at all fancy ' just like Annika. All he does is win golf tournaments. I guess thats all Ms. Sorenstam does, too.
At the age of 53, 54, even 55, that was quite understandable. He was at that age where he was just so much better than any of the Champions Tour members, and that was long and short of it.
But when he got to be 56, 57 ' well, that was somewhat eye-opening. And to win a major at the age of nearly 59 ' hey, that just isnt done.
But Irwin won three U.S. Opens playing with the juniors, including what may have been the most difficult one of all ' in 74 at Winged Foot. The winds were howling and there was rain and cold weather, and Irwin stood up to it all. He had to accept a 7-over-par score to do it ' but he won. He has always been among the most patient of players, willing to play for pars if need be, accept the occasional bogey if thats what the course throws at you, but always stay in a position to win the title.
Did I have the basic skills that everybody else didn't have? I doubt it, conceded Irwin.
I mean, I have always driven the ball in play and I have hit a lot of good iron shots, kept the ball in play nicely. But I think I just did not give up because there was a lot of conversation that week (in 74) of players sort of accepting that they couldn't play it. And I am quite certain there's going to be some players coming around this week that are going to look at this golf course and kind of be thinking, 'How in the world am I going to do this because it is different?
So I think that's probably the basic ingredient is I have just never had that willingness to give up on it. So when I encounter a course like Winged Foot or Aronimink or wherever it may be, I can kind of fall back on that - maybe it's like football, just being one of the smallest guys on the field and having to do something a little better, whether it be preparing myself better or trying harder or whatever those locker room cliches are, they have helped me through the years.
Irwin won 20 times on the regular tour in 26 years. Hes now won 40 times on the Champions (nee Senior) Tour in just under nine years. Obviously he has taken whatever abilities he had on the regular tour and stepped them up a notch for the elder circuit.
Above it all, his putting on the Champions has been remarkable. In eight full seasons on the tour, he finished first three times, second once, and third twice. And hes finished first or second in the all-important stat of scoring average in six of those eight years ' he finished third and fourth in the other two years.
Any time now, he will have to slow down. It obviously wont be this year, maybe not next year when he is 60. But he cant continue beating guys 10, 11 years younger than he when he is 61 or 62.
Er ' can he?
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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate
World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.
Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.
"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."
Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.
Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.
"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."
Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.
"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."
LPGA lists April date for new LA event
The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.
When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.
The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.
The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.
Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions
The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”
For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.
There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.
“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”
But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.
Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”
“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”
Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.
“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”
It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.
Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”
The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”
You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.
How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?
“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.
Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.
The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.
Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.
Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.
“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”
It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.
Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.
The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.
Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week
Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.
That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.
Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.
From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.
Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.
She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.
She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.
“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”
Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.
With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.
The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.
She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.
The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.