Thorpes Year to Remember
He wasnt as successful in his career PGA Tour. He had to go through Monday qualifiers until the all-exempt tour came into effect in 1983, and he was a terrible qualifier. On those occasions when he actually got into a tournament, he usually did quite well. But it was an ordeal just battling his way past 100 guys to get into the starting lineup. And it was an ordeal just keeping the money when he did earn it ' many of his checks went straight through to the casinos or race tracks. I dont think I owed the whole check, said Thorpe, but I knew I had the money when I got there.
Jim Thorpe has had a dozen or so careers in his 53 years college football player, General Motors plant worker, golf hustler, mini-tour player, black-tour player, finally the PGA Tour, just to name a few. He made the big tour in 1978, even was co-medalist along with John Fought at the qualifying school.
In 1985, though, Thorpe was all aces when it came to his career with the PGA Tour. That year he was golden ' he won two tournaments (Milwaukee Open and the Seiko-Tucson Match Play Championship) and lost a third in a playoff (the Western Open).
The year had started on a discouraging note for Thorpe. The first part of the season, he had tendonitis in his left wrist. I told my wife if I make $50-60,000, enough to make the top 125, I was gonna pull up for the year, he says.
So when the month of August rolled around, Thorpe had almost won his $50,000. He would have to make four or five thousand in the Western Open the first weekend in August, and that would be it for 1985.
Thorpe didnt look like he was going to make it after a first-round 75. He went to see a doctor that evening and got a cortisone injection to ease the pain. But that was when his career suddenly took a turn from a one-way ticket home ' to the best year of his PGA Tour career.
Thorpe came back from the cortisone shot to blister the course for a 66, easily sufficient to survive the cut. And by the time Sunday morning rolled around, Thorpe had a six-shot lead on everyone except one amateur ' an Oklahoma State collegian named Scott Verplank.
It rained throughout the day Sunday ' Verplanks 21st birthday ' and Thorpe never could catch his younger opponent, who was the first amateur in 36 years to win a tournament. On the third playoff hole Verplank finally won. CBS television commentator Steve Melnyk said the pressure on Thorpe was much greater than Verplank.
As good a player as Scott is, Melnyk said after the win, nobody really expects an amateur to come out and beat the best players in the world. Plus, theres just so many things going through your mind when you finally get into a position (as Thorpe was) to win your first tour event.
Thorpe agreed. Im not trying to take anything away from him because hes a super player, he said, but there was no money on the line for Scott. It was a walk in the park for him.
Thorpe did win the first-place money of $90,000, but he was to get a nasty surprise when he went to Cherry Hills the next week for the PGA Championship. He thought the first-place money would qualify him, but he was mistaken. The PGA ruled that he was ineligible since he hadnt actually won the tournament (at the time one of the categories of eligibility was a win in the year prior to the tournament).
I understand there are rules, but the PGA of America had an exemption available, and I felt I had earned it as low pro at the Western, said Thorpe. Nonetheless, he was obligated to leave Denver and the PGA, but that just made him more determined for his next success.
That came the next month, at Milwaukee. This time, there wouldnt be anymore almosts. This time, Thorpe ended all speculation with a resounding win. The man he beat wasnt an amateur ' it was Jack Nicklaus.
Thorpe, with an Ace bandage strapped around his ailing left wrist, shot a 62 in the third round ' which included a 29 on the front nine. That was low enough to catch Nicklaus. Then he kept it up in the final round to defeat Nicklaus ' and everyone else in the field ' and win going away.
It was a little telling of Nicklaus the man that Nicklaus sidled up to Thorpe during the final round and gave a little encouragement.
I was really feeling the pressure the back nine, said Thorpe. Jack came over to me and said, Try and take it easy, Jim. It will all be over soon.
It helped relax me, and when we came up 18, he motioned for me to walk up to the green ahead of him. He wanted me to know that the cheers were all for me. I know he had to be disappointed in not winning, but he was thoughtful enough to think me. Ill never forget that.
Then it was on to Tucson the last week in October, and a victory over Jack Renner in the Match Play Championship. Thorpe remembers the struggle of playing through the field one-by-one. He won the Match Play again in 1986, making two of the three regular tour victories head-to-head battles.
He admitted it was due partially to his gamesmanship. Example? A 1985 match with Dan Pohl.
I had Herman Mitchell (Lee Trevinos longtime caddy) caddying for me, Thorpe said in a recent Golf Digest article. I was 3-up on Dan and giving him some lip. All of a sudden Dan reversed the gamesmanship and broke my concentration.
Next thing I knew, were dead even. On the 16th hole we both chipped to about two feet. He gave me the putt. I was about to do the same when Herman said, Jim, dont give him that.
So I just stood there. I could tell be Dans body language he was expecting me to tell him to pick it up. But I didnt give it to him, he missed it, and I ended up winning. Herman said, Man, thats your game, talkin and jivin, getting into peoples heads.
By the time 1985 was over with, Thorpe had made nearly $400,000 ' $54,000 for Milwaukee and $150,000 in Tucson to go with the 90k he won at the Western. That was good for fourth on the money list. But he also had something even more important ' a new attitude.
Hes not a nice guy on the golf course anymore, said his wife, Carol, at the end of 1985. I mean, hes congenial, but hes got the killer instinct in him that all the rest of the winners on tour have ' the intensity. He didnt have that before.
The Greater Milwaukee Open will be played again this week, but without Jim Thorpe - he has taken his game to the Senior Tour. But he will never forget what it was like to be on tour before 1985 ' and what it was like during three wonderful months in 85.
I talked to some people who think I should be pumped up or super happy about the year, but hell, I paid my dues, man, said Thorpe. I worked hard. Ive been on the road with no money. Ive been on the road with flat tires. You name it, and, you know, its happened to me.
So, when I won, it was a pleasant sight to see coming. But I really wasnt that surprised. All through the year I played on the tour, I played well enough to win. It was just that someone else played better.
But not at the end of 1985. For three months, Jim Thorpe was king of the golf world.
Jim Thorpe's Bio
Full Coverage of the 2002 Ford Senior Players Championship
Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener
KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.
The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.
Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.
''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''
First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.
''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''
David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.
Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.
The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.
''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.
Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.
I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.
One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.
So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?
You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?
Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?
I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.
This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.
Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.
The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:
“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”
Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.
Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.
Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.
Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.
In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.
Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.
After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth.
Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.