Golf Talk Live - Jan Stephenson Transcript Segment 1

By Golf Channel NewsroomJanuary 24, 2000, 5:00 pm
TEASE
JAN STEPHENSON HAS BEEN BLESSED WITH A GREAT LOOK, A TIRELESS DEDICATION TO PERFECTION AND THE ENERGY TO MAKE THE WHOLE PACKAGE SUCCESSFUL. MEET HER NOW ON GOLF TALK LIVE.

(GTL MUSIC/INTRO BEGINS)

AUSTRALIAN'S JAN STEPHENSON AND GREG NORMAN HAVE A GREAT DEAL IN COMMON. WHEN GREG NORMAN STOPPED BY THE GOLF CHANNEL FOR A CHAT, HE SAID HE WAS A RELUCTANT CELEBRITY.

JAN STEPHENSON FEELS THAT WAY TOO. JAN, LIKE GREG, DOESN'T LOOK SHY OR RELUCTANT. WHAT HAS ALWAYS BEEN IMPORTANT TO GREG AND TO JAN IS THE GAME, THE PLAYING, THE SOLITUDE OF PRACTICE, AND THE RUSH THAT BEING IN CONTENTION BRINGS.

SHE'S AN AGGRESSIVE GOLFER BUT A CONSERVATIVE PERSON. SHE DOESN'T FEEL COMFORTABLE SOCIALIZING. AND HER PREFERENCE FOR KEEPING HER OWN COMPANY HAS CAUSED HER TO BE MISUNDERSTOOD.

SHE'S NOT BIG AND STRONG. AND HER GAME REQUIRES HOURS OF PRACTICE TO STAY IN TUNE. JAN PRACTICES HER CRAFT INSTEAD OF SOCIAL SKILLS WHEN SHE'S ON TOUR.

WHEN SHE FIRST JOINED THE LPGA TOUR, LAURA BAUGH WAS THE GLAMOUR GIRL. AND THERE WERE HALL OF FAMERS PLAYING AT THEIR PEAK.

BUT WHEN JAN GOT COMFORTABLE WITH A NEW COUNTRY, WITH THE VAGARIES OF THE TOUR, WITH THE NOTION THAT SHE HAD A WORLD CLASS GAME, SHE BEGAN TO BLOSSOM INTO A GREAT PLAYER AND WIN MAJORS AND INTO THE MOST GLAMOROUS STAR THE LPGA HAS EVER HAD.

THE SAME THINGS ARE IMPORTANT NOW AS THEY WERE WHEN SHE FIRST WON AS A SCHOOLGIRL IN AUSTRALIA, BEING APPRECIATIVE OF HER GIFTS, OF HER OPPORTUNITIES, AND FOR THE NEXT CHANCE TO WIN.

WELCOME TO GOLF TALK LIVE. I'M PETER KESSLER. I AM DELIGHTED TO INTRODUCE YOU TO AND WELCOME TO OUR SHOW, JAN STEPHENSON. AND IT IS A PLEASURE TO SEE YOU HERE.

JAN STEPHENSON
THANK YOU. GOOD TO SEE YOU AGAIN, PETER.

PETER KESSLER
YOU KNOW, WATCHING YOU PLAY GOLF THIS LAST YEAR, YOUR ENTHUSIASM, THE QUALITY OF YOUR PLAY, HOW CLOSE YOU'VE COME TO WINNING A REGULAR TOUR EVENT,

IS IT FAIR TO SAY THAT WINNING AND COMPETITION ARE AS IMPORTANT TO YOU NOW AS THEY WERE WHEN YOU WERE THE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR?

JAN STEPHENSON
(CHUCKLE) IT'S NOT EVEN CLOSE. IT'S SO MUCH MORE IMPORTANT NOW. IT'S - I THINK MY DAD ALWAYS USED TO SAY, YOU KNOW, 'WE SHOULD SMELL THE ROSES.'

YOU KNOW, I'D WIN AND - AND HE'D SAY, YOU KNOW, 'LET'S SAVOR THIS WIN.' I'M LIKE, 'OH DAD, THERE'S ALWAYS - THERE'S NEXT WEEK - WE HAVE TO WIN NEXT WEEK NOW.'

AND HE'D SAY, 'PLEASE, PLEASE SMELL THE ROSES.' AND SO NOW, IF I JUST HAVE A GOOD FINISH, I REALLY SAVOR IT. I MEAN, LAST NIGHT DRIVING HOME FROM NAPLES,

AND I'D - I'D WON THE - THE VISTA LEGENDS SERIES, AND UH, I COULDN'T BELIEVE IT. I MEAN, I WAS LIKE, 'OKAY DAD, I'M GONNA SMELL THE ROSES FOR 5 HOURS DRIVING HOME.' AND I REALLY, REALLY SAVORED IT.

AND I THINK IT'S - IT'S KIND OF UNFORTUNATE. YOU GET TO AN - AN AGE . I WISH YOU COULD DO IT WHEN YOU'RE YOUNGER, YOU KNOW. I ACTUALLY E-MAILED UM, SOME RESPONSES FOR SOME INTERVIEWS FOR - FOR UM,

A MAGAZINE FOR KARRIE TODAY. AND UH, THEY SAID, 'DO YOU HAVE ANY ADVICE FOR KARRIE?' AND - AND THE ONLY THING I COULD SAY IS, BECAUSE I THINK SHE'S GOT AN INCREDIBLE HEAD ON HER SHOULDERS

AND SHE KNOWS EXACTLY WHAT SHE WANTS FROM HER CAREER, BUT I THINK I REALLY WANT TO TELL HER 'JUST MAKE SURE YOU SMELL THE ROSES.'

PETER KESSLER
YOUR DAD SAID THAT YOU WERE HIS DREAM DAUGHTER BEFORE HE DIED. DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT A LOT?

JAN STEPHENSON
OH, I TALKED TO HIM EVERYDAY THE MOMENT I TEE OFF UH BECAUSE HE . I - I WAS LIKE A LITTLE SHADOW FOR MY FATHER. AND - AND UH, I FOLLOWED HIM EVERYWHERE. AND HE WANTED ME TO BE AN ATHLETE FROM THE TIME I WAS 7 YEARS OLD.

I CAN REMEMBER, PEOPLE ALWAYS WONDERED WHY I HAVE THIS INCREDIBLE WORK ETHIC. I MEAN, EVERYTHING I DO, I DO IT TO THE NTH DEGREE FROM THE MOMENT I WAKE UP AT 5:30 IN THE MORNING TILL I - TO GO TO SLEEP. I'M ALWAYS WORKING.

I MEAN, WHEN I TRAVEL, I HAVE MY PUTTING MACHINE AND ALL OF MY NOTES ON MY GOLF COURSE AND MY COMPUTER AND MY VIDEO. AND - AND LIKE I'M JUST IN MY ROOM, I'VE JUST GOT SO MUCH WORK TO DO EVERYDAY, AND I LOVE IT.

BUT I KNOW FROM THE TIME I WAS 7, I MEAN, HE WANTED ME TO BE A PROFESSIONAL - I MEAN, A - A SWIMMER FOR THE OLYMPICS.

SO I TRAINED, FROM THE MOMENT I WOKE UP, WITH MY FATHER SWIMMING. BUT MY MOTHER WANTED ME TO BE A DANCER. SO I HAD TO - TO TRAIN AT DANCING AT NIGHT WHEN I WAS 7.

SO I'VE JUST LEARNED FROM THE TIME I WAS A YOUNG KID THAT I HAD TO WORK REALLY HARD.

PETER KESSLER
WHAT ABOUT THAT DISCIPLINE STORY THAT TURNED OUT TO BE SO HELPFUL TO YOU AS YOU GREW UP? THE ONE ABOUT, WHEN YOU WERE A KID AND HE SAID, IT'S TIME TO GO HIT BALLS.'

AND YOU SAID, 'I DON'T WANT TO GET UP AND HIT BALLS.' AND HE SAID, 'BUT THIS COULD END UP BEING THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WINNING THE U.S. OPEN ONE DAY OR NOT.'

JAN STEPHENSON
YOU'VE GOT A GREAT MEMORY. I REMEMBER TELLING YOU THAT YEARS AND YEARS AGO. BUT IT'S TRUE. I REMEMBER MY FATHER WANTING ME TO PRACTICE REALLY HARD.

AND - AND I WAS ABOUT 12 OR 13. AND YOU KNOW, OF COURSE, WE DON'T HAVE AIR CONDITIONING OR HEATING IN AUSTRALIA. AND UH, IT WAS A COLD DAY. AND I WENT TO AN ALL-GIRLS SCHOOL.

20:05:42
BUT I WAS JUST - I WAS ABOUT 13. SO I WAS JUST KIND OF GETTING INTO BOYS. AND THERE WERE SOME BOYS ON THE BUS THAT WE WENT TO - TO SCHOOL WITH. AND ALL MY FRIENDS SAYING,

'YOU KNOW, IF YOU GO - COME WITH US ON THE - ON THE PUBLIC BUS, YOU'LL GET TO SEE THE BOYS THAT GO TO THE BOYS SCHOOL.' I'M LIKE, 'OH, THAT SOUNDS LIKE FUN.'

AND OF COURSE, I WOKE UP AND IT WAS FREEZING COLD. AND MY DAD WAS DOING NIGHT SHIFTS SO HE COULD TAKE ME TO GOLF BEFORE AND AFTER SCHOOL.

AND HE CAME IN FROM WORK. AND - AND MOTHER GOES, 'FRANK, WE - I HAVE BAD NEWS. JAN WON'T GO WITH YOU. IT'S TOO COLD. SHE WON'T GET UP. SHE WANTS TO TAKE THE BUS TO SCHOOL.'

AND HE'S LIKE, 'WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?' SO THEY BROUGHT IN SOME HOT CHOCOLATE. THEY BOTH SAT ON MY BED AND SAID, 'NOW, COME ON NOW. HERE'S YOUR HOT CHOCOLATE. IF YOU GET UP RIGHT NOW AND PRACTICE, YOU MIGHT WIN THE U.S. OPEN.'

AND I'M LIKE, 'OKAY.' NOW I REALLY - EVEN AT THAT STAGE, DIDN'T THINK THAT IT WAS THAT IMPORTANT. BUT IT WAS SO IMPORTANT TO MY PARENTS. I WENT, 'OKAY DAD.' SO I GOT UP. AND - AND I WON THE U.S. OPEN ONE DAY.

PETER KESSLER
ALL THESE PLAYERS WHO'VE BEEN PLAYING GREAT GOLF AFTER THEY TURN 40 SAY, 'WELL, BECAUSE I'M SO MUCH MORE EXPERIENCED NOW, I'M SMARTER NOW. AND THAT'S WHY I'M PLAYING BETTER.' SO ARE YOU SMARTER NOW?

JAN STEPHENSON
ABSOLUTELY NOT. I'M STILL AN IDIOT ON THE GOLF COURSE. I WAS JUST . IF - YOU SHOULD HAVE HEARD ME YESTERDAY. I WAS LIKE, 'YOU STUPID IDIOT. YOU THINK I WOULD KNOW BY NOW.'

I MEAN, SOME OF THE THINGS - I MEAN, I MADE MORE MENTAL ERRORS THE LAST 2 TOURNAMENTS, AND I ONLY HAD 3 WEEKS OFF. I - I CAN'T BELIEVE IT. I MEAN, YOU KNOW, GOLF IS JUST INCREDIBLE.

I MEAN, I LEARN - EVERY SINGLE DAY, I - I LEARN ANOTHER LESSON ABOUT GOLF. IT'S . I'M - I'M NEVER GONNA BE SMART ENOUGH TO PLAY GOLF.

AND I HAVE WAY TOO MUCH EMOTION FOR THE GOLF COURSE. UH, I KNOW THAT. UH, SO I MEAN, I LIVE AND DIE WITH EVERY SHOT. AND I CRY AT NIGHT.

IF I'VE HAD THREE 3-PUTTS, I GO HOME AND CRY MY EYES OUT BECAUSE I HAD THREE 3-PUTTS, STILL TO THIS DAY. I MEAN, EVEN THOUGH THERE'S ANOTHER TOURNAMENT NEXT WEEK, IT STILL ABSOLUTELY DEVASTATES ME.

AND SO UM, IT'S - IT'S KIND OF NEAT THAT THAT'S NOT THE REASON I'M PLAYING WELL.

PETER KESSLER
WHAT IS THE REASON YOU'RE PLAYING WELL?

JAN STEPHENSON
(CHUCKLE) WELL UM . WELL, THIS WEEK IS THE 10TH ANNIVERSARY FOR MY MUGGING. AND THE DOCTORS TOLD ME I COULDN'T DO IT, I COULDN'T COME BACK. AND I HAVE GONE THROUGH A . (PETER INTERRUPTS)

PETER KESSLER
TELL PEOPLE WHAT HAPPENED.

JAN STEPHENSON
WHEN I WAS MUGGED UM . WELL, I - ACTUALLY I - I FELT LIKE I'D REALLY WORKED HARD BECAUSE I'D - I'D HAD ABOUT 5 YEARS OF HORRIBLE THINGS HAPPENING.

'87, I GOT IN A CAR WRECK WHEN I FELT LIKE THAT WAS GONNA BE - I WAS GONNA BE NUMBER ONE. '88, MY DAD DIED. '89, MY CADDIE DIED.

1990, I HAD A MISCARRIAGE. AND THEN IT WAS LIKE . THEN - AND THEN I GOT MUGGED. AND IT WAS LIKE, 'WHAT ELSE IS GONNA HAPPEN IN MY LIFE?'

AND SO I'VE REALLY WORKED HARD. BUT THE - THE PROBLEM WAS THAT EVERYBODY SAYS THE LEFT SIDE IS SO IMPORTANT IN GOLF. AND MY LEFT SIDE HAD BEEN DAMAGED.

UH, IN THE CAR WRECK, I HAD ALL THE - I'D HAD ALL MY RIBS BROKEN ON MY LEFT SIDE. BUT IN THE MUGGING UH, WHEN I - WHEN I WAS MUGGED UM,

THEY UM, THEY TRIED TO GET THE RING OFF - MY WEDDING RING OFF MY FINGER. AND THEY SPIRAL FRACTURED IT. SO WHEN THEY DID THAT, THEY KIND OF FRACTURED ALL THE LITTLE BONES INTO LIKE LITTLE SLIVERS.

SO THEY PUT SOME SCREWS IN IT. AND OF COURSE, IT WON'T BEND OR STRAIGHTEN. BUT BY DOING THAT, WHEN IT - WHEN IT WAS HANGING ON BY THE TENDON, THEY ACTUALLY DAMAGED THE TENDONS IN MY HAND WHICH, OF COURSE, GO UP MY LEFT FOREARM.

SO I HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO STRENGTH IN MY LEFT SIDE. AND SO, IT WAS LIKE I HAVE TO FIND A TEACHER THAT BELIEVES IN THAT. AND I WENT THROUGH SOME INCREDIBLE GREAT COACHES

AND ACTUALLY WENT BACK TO MY BOYFRIEND. AND MY COACH IN AUSTRALIA THAT I HAD WHEN I WAS 16 YEARS OLD BELIEVES IN THE RIGHT SIDE BEING STRONG.

SO I ACTUALLY HAD TO START ALL OVER. SO PEOPLE KEEP SAYING, 'HOW CAN YOU BE SO ENTHUSIASTIC?' IT'S LIKE, 'WELL, I'VE REALLY ONLY BEEN OUT HERE 10 YEARS.'

I'VE HAD A NEW GOLF SWING FOR ONLY ABOUT 2 YEARS. SO I HAVE WORKED INCREDIBLY HARD TO ACTUALLY CHANGE MY GOLF SWING.

PETER KESSLER
SO WHAT KIND OF WORK ETHIC DOES IT TAKE FOR YOU TO BE COMPETITIVE RIGHT NOW?

JAN STEPHENSON
WELL, MOST - THE AVERAGE PERSON COULDN'T DO IT. IT'S . I DON'T REALLY SAY MUCH ABOUT IT. BUT I - I . EVERY NIGHT, I HAVE TO - I DO UH, UNDER - THE WATER THERAPY IN THE BATH WITH MY - WITH MY TENDONS.

`COURSE HEALTH SOUTH ON TOUR REALLY HELPS US A LOT BECAUSE I CAN - AS SOON AS I GO IN THERE, THEY WORK ON ME EVERYDAY. THEY INJECT IT.

AND BEFOREHAND, THEY USUALLY TRY TO WORK THE - THE TENDONS AND - AND DO A LITTLE BIT OF ULTRASOUND.

BUT UM, THE PRACTICE I HAVE TO DO TO ACTUALLY CHANGE FROM BEING - TO BE A RIGHT-HAND - RIGHT ARMED PLAYER WAS REALLY INCREDIBLE.

AND OF COURSE, THEN I FEEL LIKE MY SHORT GAME SUFFERS. SO THEN I PRACTICE MY PUTTING AT NIGHT.

PETER KESSLER
HAVE PEOPLE RECONCILED AT ALL ABOUT YOU THE FACT THAT YOU'RE A REALLY PUBLIC FIGURE, BUT YOU INSIST ON BEING A VERY PRIVATE PERSON?

JAN STEPHENSON
WELL, ACTUALLY THE PLAYERS UNDERSTAND IT A LOT MORE NOW. AND THEY - THEY SEE THE ENTHUSIASM WITH THIS GOLF COURSE I'M DESIGNING BECAUSE THEY KNOW HOW I DO THINGS.

AND I THINK THE PLAYERS . UH, THE BEST COMPLIMENT I'VE HAD FROM THE PLAYERS IS THAT SO MANY OF THEM WANT TO COME LIVE AT WALKABOUT.

UH, THEY'VE ALREADY SAID, 'YOU KNOW, ANYTHING THAT YOU DO, WE KNOW YOU'RE GONNA DO IT TO THE NTH DEGREE. AND SO WE BELIEVE THIS IS GONNA BE A GREAT GOLF COURSE AND WE WANT TO COME LIVE THERE.'

AND THAT WAS AN INCREDIBLE COMPLIMENT BECAUSE I USED TO THINK THAT I REALLY WASN'T VERY WELL LIKED ON THE TOUR BECAUSE I DO KEEP TO MYSELF. I EAT ROOM SERVICE AND MOST OF MY FRIENDS NOW KNOW

THAT EVERY TIME THEY'VE ME ASKED ME FOR DINNER, I GO 'NO.' THEY NOW KNOW THAT I EAT ROOM SERVICE 99% OF THE TIME. AND - AND SO NOW THEY UNDERSTAND.

IN FACT UH, WE HAD A BOARD MEETING FOR OUR SENIORS TOUR, WHICH I'M ONE OF THE OWNERS, UH, I'M - I'M ON THEIR BOARD, AND THEY ASKED ME FOR JIM. THEY SAID, 'LOOK, WE'RE GONNA HAVE A MEETING AND WE'RE GONNA HAVE DINNER.

AND WE'RE ONLY GONNA ASK YOU FOR ONE DINNER FOR THE WHOLE YEAR.' AND I WAS LIKE, 'OKAY, BUT IT HAS TO BE THE WEEK BEFORE A TOURNAMENT, CAN'T BE THE WEEK OF A TOURNAMENT.'

PETER KESSLER
AS WE GO TO BREAK, WE'RE GONNA TAKE A LOOK AT THE SAND WEDGE YOU HIT FROM 95 YARDS WHERE YOU NEEDED EAGLE-3 ON THE LAST HOLE OF THE AREA WEB DOT COM (areaWEB.COM).

AND I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY YOU COULDN'T HOLE THIS SIMPLE SHOT. WE'LL TAKE A LOOK .

IT WAS A NOTHING SHOT.

JAN STEPHENSON
YOU CAN'T?

PETER KESSLER
LET'S TAKE A LOOK AT IT AS WE GO TO BREAK.

JAN STEPHENSON
AFTER ALL THAT ACADEMY LIVE, YOU CAN'T FIGURE IT OUT?

PETER KESSLER
I CAN'T FIGURE OUT WHY YOU DIDN'T HOLE IT.

YOUR DISTANCE CONTROL IS OBVIOUSLY A PROBLEM. WE'LL BE RIGHT BACK.

(DURING BREAK, GRAPHIC SHOWN:
FOR MORE INFORMATION
About Walkabout GC:
walkaboutgolf.com
Or jan@walkaboutgolf.com
On Jan:
jan@liquidgolf.com )
(BREAK)

 
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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.

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.