Mickelsons Back and Hes Firing Again
Yep, he did it again. His worst finish has been a tie for seventh. His best one, of course, was a win in his season-opener at the Bob Hope. Quite a departure for someone nearly everyone ' myself included ' thought wasnt going to come out of the tailspin he found himself in last year.
But in all honesty, Phil has been here before. He will gently remind you that he failed to win in 1999, then came back in 2000 for a four-win season. He didnt win last year, either, and the television announcers (and others, it must be noted) pointed out that the reason was his poor judgment in always going for it. Everyone seemed to forget that he had won 21 times using this sort of mindset. Arnold Palmer wasnt exactly a shrinking violet, either, but he won 62 times by never seeing a pin placement he didnt like.
Mickelson is showing us that kind of mentality, too. He tried to go a little the other way in 2003, made a half-hearted attempt at laying up after listening to a world of complaints. But face it ' that just isnt Phil. While he isnt exactly the heat-seeking missile that he was pre-2003, he certainly isnt shy about going for the flags in 2004.
Mickelson tried to lay up once this year ' on television ' and he bogeyed anyway. All right, he did it by way of a three-putt. The bogey wasnt the fault of his strategy. But it was a bogey, nonetheless.
The only time I can think of one thing that backfired is when I laid up on 14 at the Hope and I still made 6, he grimaced. You know, there's one example, but it didn't really help.
For the most part, I've hit a lot of drivers. I'll put the 1-iron in the bag when the fairways start to bottleneck at 270, which is the case later in the year. At AT&T where the fairways are wet, course is playing long, there weren't any 1-iron holes really. But the U.S. Open, the tougher setups, I'll be having it in the bag. You might see a little bit of difference off the tee.
No one figured there would be room for him to raise this kind of ruckus this year. Tiger, of course, was at the top, but since Phil last visited, Vijay Singh has made an awful pest of himself. So has Ernie Els. Did I mention Davis Love? Or Kenny Perry? Mike Weir? There didnt seem to be much room for a rejuvenated Mickelson.
But he just muscled his way past everyone. Those guys have been doing it again, but Mickelson has been doing it every week. He shot out of the gate with the afterburners roaring.
I think it's just an improved game, really, and kind of an excitement for the year, he said. Putting last year, all the troubles behind, looking forward to this year; spending time in the off-season getting ready for this year, I couldn't wait for it to start. I'm just really enthusiastic about playing golf. When that's the case, I play my best.
In addition to the on-course hiccups, Mickelson and wife Amy were involved in a problem pregnancy. Their son is now OK, but it was very touchy for awhile. Thats all behind him now, though, and he says he once again is ready to go play.
He is only four tournaments deep into 2004, of course. But early 2004 has been impressive indeed. He is averaging 290 on the 34 drives that have been measured. His driving accuracy is 65th, and thats about average, even for a guy who launches it out there as far as he does. He is 38th in greens hit. But the real dagger has been his putting. He is eighth in rolling it. If he can keep it up to anywhere near that average, he is going to be sticky indeed.
And you thought he was impressive two years ago?
I feel like I'm playing a little bit better than a couple years ago, he said before the tournament began last week. It has only been three weeks, and it's hard to say. But I feel that I'm driving the ball better than I did a couple years ago. My distance control of my irons when I was No. 2 in the world was very good, and I feel like I'm at that level again.
My putting - I putted very well. I feel like I'm starting to putt pretty well. My short game seems to be pretty sharp. I spent a lot of time just chipping and putting in the off-season. I saw that my scrambling stats were up quite a bit from the last couple years. So just in general, I do feel like it's a little bit better than it was a few years ago.
And suddenly, it was all there again, the little-boy smile and that cherub face. Phil Mickelson is back, at age 33. Hes tried to do what the smart boys told him, but it wasnt very successful. He has reformed just a little, but when he is rolling along now without a lot of technical thoughts, he goes back to what brought him this far in the first place. Firin Phil is just Aggressive Phil, and this is the way he plays the best.
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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.