New Approach to Chasing Tiger

By Golf Channel NewsroomApril 9, 2003, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. (AP) -- It's hard to imagine Ernie Els getting worked up about anything. Hey, he's the Big Easy, the guy with the sleepy eyes, the comfortable grin, the soothing demeanor.
 
Truth is, the South African has been tormented by his pursuit of Tiger Woods, allowing it to affect every aspect of his game.
 
Els jokes about the 'little guy' on his shoulder, the demon who tells him to go for shots that have little chance of working, who keeps whispering 'Tiger, Tiger, Tiger' in his ear.
 
'If you start playing Tiger on Thursday from the first tee, that's the wrong way to go about it,' said Els, expected to be one of Woods' main challengers at the Masters after taking two weeks off to heal a sore wrist. 'You're going to beat yourself up and not play your normal game.'
 
A year ago at Augusta National, Els let his preoccupation with Woods ruin any chance of winning the tournament.
 
Woods was leading on Sunday when Els went to No. 13, hoping to take a big chunk out of the deficit with an eagle on the par-5 hole. He pulled out a 3-wood and tried to steer his tee shot around trees hugging the left side of the dogleg.
 
Instead, Els yanked the ball into the woods. To make things worse, he tried two impossible shots from the foliage, putting them both in Rae's Creek. He wound up taking a triple-bogey 8.
 
'I was trying to really get it around the corner and have a shot at eagle and all that stuff,' Els said. 'But after the tee shot, I was dead. And then I just made mistake after mistake. After that first mistake, I was trying to rectify it as quickly as I could. Subsequently, I just got myself deeper in a hole.'
 
It doesn't take a psychology degree and a couch to figure out why he is so preoccupied with Woods.
 
At age 24, Els won the first of two U.S. Open titles. He was the rising star in the world of golf: imposing in size (6-foot-3, 200 pounds), dashing in looks and immensely talented.
 
He never really got a chance to enjoy his reign. In 1997, Woods signaled the start of a new era with a 12-stroke victory at the Masters. Since then, this sport has been Tiger's World - everyone else just has a tee time.
 
Over the years, Els has finished second to Woods in six tournaments around the world, more than anyone else. Two of those came in 2000, when Woods romped to record-breaking victories at the U.S. Open and British Open and went on to win four straight majors, the first player to do that in the modern era. Els wondered if he would ever get another chance.
 
'My focus wasn't channeled in the right direction,' he said. 'It was more channeled toward players instead of the golf course and the shots that I have to play.'
 
Els brought in famed coach David Leadbetter to work on his swing and, just as important, Belgian psychologist Jos Vanstiphout to work on his psyche.
 
'The first thing I told him was to forget about Tiger,' Vanstiphout said. 'Tiger wasn't the issue. He was the issue. Instead of changing the person, you have to change the way the person thinks.'
 
So far this year, the results are evident.
 
While Woods was recovering from knee surgery, Els became the first player in 14 years to win the first two PGA Tour events of the season. He won twice more against good fields in Australia.
 
Then came a reality check. Els and Woods went mano-a-mano at Bay Hill in the third round. It wasn't really a fair fight - Els had the sore wrist, Woods had a four-shot lead - but the world's best player solidified his spot by finishing the day with a 10-stroke lead. By the end of the next day, Woods was 19 shots ahead.
 
Els, it seems, is still a work in progress.
 
'Whenever Tiger gets into a tournament, pow!' Vanstiphout said. 'There's five times more press, more security, more attention. Ernie has got to learn to live with it, and he will.'
 
Make no mistake, though: Els is learning.
 
With his career threatening to drift off course last summer, he came through with his third major victory at the British Open. Woods wasn't a factor, shooting a wind-swept 81 on Saturday, but Els still had to overcome his mental demons.
 
He had a big lead on the back nine until a double-bogey on 16 left him one stroke behind. It's not farfetched to say Els was at a crossroads.
 
He had a remarkable birdie at 17, then parred the final hole of regulation to force a four-man playoff. After four extra holes, only Els and Thomas Levet were left. Els parred the next hole to claim the Claret Jug.
 
'The British was definitely the start of maybe the resurgence of my golf game,' Els said. 'If I didn't get through that tournament, if I didn't win that tournament, I think I would have been a different player right now.'
 
Vanstiphout puts it another way.
 
'It would not have been the end of him,' the psychologist said. 'It would have bloody killed him, though.'
 
Related Links:
  • 2003 Masters Tournament Mini-Site
  • Tournament Coverage
  • The Augusta National Membership Debate: A Chronology
     
    Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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    DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

    By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

    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."

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    LPGA lists April date for new LA event

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

    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.

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    Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

    By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

    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.

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    Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

    By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

    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.