Press Pass A Coachs Worth Popularity Contest

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 25, 2007, 4:00 pm
Press PassEach week, GOLF CHANNEL experts and analysts offer their thoughts and opinions on hot topics in the world of golf with the Press Pass.
 
Hot Topic
This week is the EDS Byron Nelson Championship. What is your favorite memory of the late Byron Nelson?
 
Brian Hewitt Brian Hewitt - Columnist, GOLFCHANNEL.com:
That's easy. It was interviewing Nelson, in his late 80s at the time, while Nelson sat for a haircut with his regular barber, Shelton Givens, in downtown Fort Worth. Nelson fussed while the photographer worked on the lighting. But once we started talking he would have sat there all day long. His recall staggered the imagination. Oh, and there was the matter of him driving by himself, in his own car, from his farm to downtown Fort Worth for the interview. He parallel parked on the street, fed the meter, got out of his car and walked, with his cane, into Shelton's establishment.
 
Steve Sands Steve Sands - Reporter, GOLF CHANNEL:
I met Mr. Nelson for the first time at his event in 2002. It was amazing to watch how gentle he was and how much time he took for almost everyone. Each day I'd watch strangers walk away from shaking his hand with a smile on their face. He was always friendly.
 
Mark Rolfing Mark Rolfing - Analyst, GOLF CHANNEL:
In 1996 I was working for ABC, which covered Byrons tournament. After Phil Mickelson won that year I emceed the awards ceremony with Phil and Mr. Nelson. While we were waiting to go back on the air, Mr. Nelson looked at me and said I think you are a wonderful golf announcer. Ill never forget that.
 
Mercer Baggs Mercer Baggs - Senior Producer, GOLFCHANNEL.com:
I never had the honor to meet Mr. Nelson in a one-on-one setting, but I did attend his 2001 tournament. I remember thinking how wonderful it was that he watched everyone finish up on 18 and then shook their hands and said a few words to them as they went to sign their scorecards. It didn't matter if it was Tiger Woods or Robert Damron, he treated each player the same and thanked everyone for playing in the tournament.
 
Hot Topic
Phil Mickelson is now working full time with Butch Harmon. How much of a role do instructors play in a players success?
 
Hewitt:
Obviously, it varies from player to player. The key is communication. And that can work in different ways. Some players need a kick in the butt (and want a kick in the butt) and wind up with very good teachers who are too gentlemanly. Other players are very sensitive and don't respond to the occasional tongue-lashing. In short, some players need to be told how good they are and others need to be told how good they ought to be. It's also important for the teacher to determine what kind of stimuli--auditory or visual--the player best responds to. Then there is the familiarity thing. You don't see his name on too many lists, but Henry Reis has been with Annika Sorenstam for 20 years now. And he rarely needs to look at more than five swings to determine the trouble when Annika comes to him with a swing flaw problem. For a player to know that there is that availability is hugely important.
 
Sands:
Whenever I see a player believe in what he's working on with his instructor that confidence seems to translate to his scoring.
 
Rolfing:
I believe the instructors role has increased in this era of new technology. Forty years ago the game was played much more by feel, which is a difficult thing to teach.
 
Baggs:
Instructors are a very important part of the game, but I think many of the younger players rely too heavily on their coaches and become too mechanical in competition. I think a player should know his swing well enough to figure out what is not working on his own -- and should have a coach as an extra set of eyes to help point out any flaws and help fix them.
 
Hot Topic
Speaking of instructors, Justin Roses says that the Englishman will win more majors than Nick Faldo. Will ANY current European-born player win six or more major championships?
 
Hewitt:
Nick Bradley (Rose's coach) has forgotten more about golf than I will ever know. But winning more majors than Nick Faldo means Rose will have to capture seven before his career ends. That's a tall order for anybody. One of the most interesting things about Faldo's record is that of the nine official PGA TOUR events he won, six were major championships. That's a pretty strong percentage. Rose has the goods to win multiple majors but he's still looking for his first.
 
Sands:
No. There could be some Europeans who win multiple majors like Rose or Paul Casey. But with Tiger just 31 years of age, anyone winning six or more in the next 10-15 years is unlikely.
 
Rolfing:
No. First of all there are many more good European players to spread the majors around than during Faldos time. And secondly, Nick did not have to deal with Tiger Woods in his prime.
 
Baggs:
No chance. I'd be very surprised if any of the current crop of European-born players got even half-way to that mark. For one, there is Tiger Woods (and even Phil Mickelson). For another, winning multiple majors is about more than just talent. It takes a great deal of desire to win one major then have the drive to not settle but to want to win more and more and more. I don't think there are 10 players in the world with that drive and the ability to do it.
 
Hot Topic
Lorena Ochoa and company are in Mexico this week. Who is the most popular player in his/her country outside of the U.S.?
 
Hewitt:
Ochoa isn't a bad choice. She has done a lot to raise the level of consciousness of golf in her country. And Seve Ballesteros will always be a sporting icon in Spain. Same with Greg Norman in Australia. Jumbo Ozaki is a cult figure in Japan. But the most popular player in his country, outside of the U.S., is, hands down, Mike Weir in Canada. The Canadians have a passion for golf that is fed by the intensity of their relatively short season. They live and die with Weir's triumphs and defeats. And, add on to that, Weir's equanimity in the face of all this national pressure. We, at GOLF CHANNEL, constantly are asked who the 'good guys' are in golf. Weir is a first ballot top-5 in that category. If he wants to be elected to public office in Canada when his playing days are through, all he has to do is run.
 
Sands:
I've covered the Canadian Open three times and was in Ireland for the WGC-CA Championship and Ryder Cup. Padraig Harrington is huge in his home country, but I have never heard a crowd as loud and warm to a home country hero as Canadians are to Mike Weir. He is a legend who after his Masters win in 2003 was almost as big as Wayne Gretzky in hockey mad Canada.
 
Rolfing:
I really believe it is Lorena Ochoa. Her popularity in Mexico is mind-boggling. Camillo Villegas in Columbia would be a pretty close second.
 
Baggs:
I've never seen anything quite like the LPGA Q-school finals two years ago, when nearly 100 credentialed Japanese media were on hand to witness Ai Miyazato medal. LPGA Q-school normally gets about 10 media members total covering the event. I was told by more than one Japanese writer that she is (at least was at the time) as popular as MLB players Hideki Matsui and Ichiro.
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - EDS Byron Nelson Championship
  • Full Coverage - Corona Championship
  • 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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.

    Getty Images

    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.