Where Golf is Simply a Game

By George WhiteSeptember 18, 2005, 4:00 pm
Retief Goosen was just making a joke, nothing more. But he was asked about his International team that will participate in the Presidents Cup this week, and he couldnt help but notice a remarkable difference between his bunch and the team that represents Europe in the Ryder Cup.
 
Well, we lose against America, so we must be really bad! he said, smiling all the while at his rarely revealed sense of humor.
 
The U.S. plays a big match every year, either the Ryder Cup against Europe in the even years or the Presidents Cup against the rest of the world (Europe excluded) in the odd years. America has been quite successfully in the Presidents, running up a record of three wins, one loss and one tie. But in the Ryder Cup, the Americans have had a tough time the past 20 years, winning against Europe just three times, losing six times, and tying one.
 
At least one American sees good things ahead in the Presidents, though, and it came from seeing the U.S. prevail in the womens Solheim Cup two weeks ago.
 
I was pumped up by the Solheim Cup, said Presidents Cup member Chris DiMarco. I was proud of them.
 
Nancy Lopez and I are great friends. I was so happy for her, and the way the women showed their spirit and how they played their hearts out, it was good for golf.
 
Jim Furyk, for one, doesnt see a whole lot of similarities in the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. The Ryder Cup, he says, is so tense, so pressure-packed, that it actually is just like playing one more major tournament. The Presidents Cup is much more what golf was meant to be back when golf was just ' well, a game.
 
The Presidents Cup, quite honestly, is more fun, said Furyk.
 
Actually my first Ryder Cup, I didn't know a lot of the other team. There were some guys on the European team I had never seen play, never seen hit a golf shot. Now because of the World Golf Championships and a lot of the Europeans coming over here, we're friendly with those teams.
 
But there isn't a guy on the international squad that doesn't play - rarely is there a guy that doesn't play in the United States pretty regularly. Vijay (Singh) is a neighbor. I practice on the same tee box with him at home day in and day out.
 
And after you play a round with your buddy
 
Although it's intense and it's a pride issue, you want to go out and play as well as you can and play well for your country. It tends to have a little bit more of a shake- your-hand afterwards, and you don't hear too many bitter things happening in the Presidents Cup like there has been in the history of the Ryder Cup.
 
Some observers ' and even some players ' have tried to lump the two events into one. The Presidents Cup is the Ryder Cup is the Presidents Cup. But there really is a difference, says Furyk.
 
They are two separate events, he insists. I think Ernie (Els) and Vijay and Michael Campbell and those guys weren't on the team last year - we were playing the European team.
 
I think too much is being made trying to compare the two events. Time will eventually give the Presidents Cup a little bit of tradition and history. You know, ultimately I guess it's like everything else; everyone wants to beat the United States. We're a target every year instead of every other year.
 
And when October rolls around, every year the United States has been through the grinder. It would be nice if the PGA of America and the PGA Tour would get together and consolidate the three teams - U.S., Europe and the Internationals - but of course they wont.
 
There is simply too much money to be made in the Ryder Cup, and the PGA of America and the European PGA would never give that up. And the PGA Tour isnt so holy, either ' you can bet that if the Presidents Cup ever gets to be as big as the Ryder Cup, the tour isnt going to give that up, either. There are millions to be made on each event, and the two entities arent about to surrender either, even if golf itself is the loser.
 
So, the players will go on competing in both, different - or similar - that they are.
 
I enjoy both events, says Furyk, but they are separate and different. They are run by two different governing bodies. The points are accumulated two totally different ways. I have no problem with separating them and them being two different events.
 
I enjoy both aspects and both parts, but they are different. And the Presidents Cup, I think our team has probably played better historically in that because we've been a little bit more loose and because we've had more fun.
 
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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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.