Koch Playing With Air of Quiet Desperation

By George WhiteAugust 6, 2004, 4:00 pm
The Champions Tour season is a little more than halfway over and Gary Koch is playing now with an air of quiet desperation. As he tees it up this weekend at the 3M Championship near Minneapolis-St. Paul, he realizes he has got to make some money ' or else.
 
Koch is a fulltime announcer for NBC. Hes a part-time golfer. But he dearly wants to continue his golfing career. Hes 52 now and into his second year on the Champions. If he doesnt finish in the top 30 this year, he loses the exempt status that he got from being a winner on the regular tour (he won six times.)
 
Ive always known that is a very important year for Gary Koch of the Champions Tour, he said. I knew at the start of the year that it was make-or-break time. I knew I had to play well and finish high enough on the money list if I wanted to continue to play.
 
Presently he stands 32 in the money race and he needs to climb up two more places to the No. 30 spot.
 
Koch came within an eyelash of winning the ACE Classic this year, a victory that would have given him an automatic exempt status for next year. But Craig Stadler nosed him out in a playoff at the ACE and its been somewhat of a struggle ever since.
 
In Kochs case, its been far too long a time in the announcers booth - first for ESPN and then with NBC. And he still tries to maneuver his schedule around playing when NBC isnt doing golf tournaments. And that is very difficult.
 
You know, in my case, I was away from competition for a long time, he said. There were 13 years where I literally didnt play very often. There is something to having nerves that used to be there versus nerves that arent.
 
But regardless of whether Koch actually plays or not, many would argue that he still has the ideal job. After all, he IS a golf broadcaster, and as such he never misses a cut, never has to worry about non-exempt status to do his job. Koch knows hes very fortunate.
 
You know, I really dont look back, he said. At the time when I got into doing television, I did not enjoy playing. I was not playing that well, and I was at a point in my life where I had two small children and a wife at home, I was on the road a lot by myself, I was going back to hotel rooms by myself after shooting 73 and 74s. The television thing came along and I got involved.
 
Its very different ' for a guy who plays an individual sport, doing television is more of a team effort. There are anywhere from 120 to 200 people are involved.
 
So no, I dont regret at all going into television. If I suddenly had a lot of success as a player, I still would hold onto the television.
 
Koch thinks there is a definite advantage to working upstairs before going downstairs onto the course.
 
It certainly made me aware that the guys who win tournaments dont necessarily always hit the shots perfectly and dont always make a lot of putts. Youve got to have a lot of patience, he said
 
It was certainly something I was aware of when I got started. Unfortunately, last year, for whatever reason, I just got lost. I didnt know what I was trying to do with my golf swing, I was seeing all the courses for the first time. A lot of things compounded for me to not perform the way I felt I was capable of.
 
I tried to do the telecast and then come right out and play, and I found out in a very rude way that that isnt so.
 
So hes going to try this, and if it works out that he cant serve two masters, so be it. At times this year hes been exceptional. But at times, hes been run-of-the-mill. He was one of the games most brilliant putters as a regular-tour member. Now, putting has been a real problem at times.
 
I definitely feel I have not putted anywhere near as well as I used to, said Koch. The good news is, I probably hit the ball better now than I did then.
 
I think part of it is time, age ' I dont think theres any question about it. Talking to Ben Crenshaw ' who is still a very, very good putter but Im sure would tell you not as good as he once was ' we were kidding around and we agreed that you probably are allowed to make so many in a lifetime.
 
But I think age certainly has something to do with it. Personally I think eyesight ' as your eyesight changes ' I look at some pictures now of my setup during my regular-tour days and my setup has changed. Now, it hasnt changed consciously ' I havent purposely tried to set my head in a different position from what I used to. But it is different. And I think that has to do with your eyesight changing.
 
Koch, though, has already improved tremendously from last year, when he finished 73rd on the money list as a rookie. Hes getting adjusted to what it means to be a player again, and if he finds he can comfortably fit that in with the broadcasting ' well, hell be a broadcasting golfer.
 
I think this year what I really was able to do was set some pretty specific goals, he said. And I look back on last year and yes, I wanted to play well and yes, I kind of expected to come out here and play well.
 
But I really didnt set enough specific goals, things that I can get focused on. And the nice thing starting this year, I had to have some specific goals ' there was no choice. And I think thats really helped a lot.
 
Patience has never been my forte. So consequently the highs are usually higher and the lows are usually lower. Something Ive been working on very hard this year is not to get too high and not to get too low. So far this year, its been a little better.
 
Email your thoughts to George White
 
Related links:
  • TGC Airtimes

  • Full Coverage - 3M Championship

  • Leaderboard - 3M Championship
  • Getty Images

    Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

    Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

    While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

    He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

    "A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

    Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

    "If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

    Getty Images

    Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

    When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

    Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

    "I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"


    CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos


    The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

    Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

    "It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

    Getty Images

    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    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."

    Getty Images

    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    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.