Golfers Who Give Back: Michael Phelps

By Golf DigestNovember 30, 2012, 7:40 pm

Before the record 22 Olympic swimming medals (18 gold), Michael Phelps was a U.S. record-holder as a 10-year-old and an Olympic qualifier for the 2000 Sydney Games at 15. It was around that time, he recalls, that swimming seemed a lot less interesting than the sport so many of his buddies were playing. 'I actually wanted to stop swimming and go out for the high school golf team,' Phelps says. 'I'm glad I didn't make that choice.' This past fall, Phelps finally quit swimming and took up golf, and for the foreseeable future, the game will be one of his priorities. He already has begun shooting the Golf Channel series 'The Haney Project,' which will air from late February to early April. He was Davis Love III's guest at the Ryder Cup. And a week later, he played in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship (see his 153-foot putt) in Scotland with Paul Casey. Like so many world-class athletes before him, Phelps wants to become a scratch golfer. 'And,' he says, 'I've got the rest of my life to get there.'

Golfers Who Give Back: Bill Clinton | Michael J. Fox | Morgan Freeman

Q: What's your first memory of golf?

A: The first thing that comes to mind is Tiger's shot at, what was it, The Masters? That chip shot was so sick! I could sit and watch it 100 times and still get chills.

Q: But you never played while growing up?

A: I had friends who played, but until a couple of years ago I had never hit a shot. One day, just randomly, I went with some guys to the range. It was kind of fun, and I was just borrowing clubs, so when we finished I said, 'Let's go buy some clubs.' The next day a bunch of my friends and I went out, and I was like, 'Man, I could get used to this.'

Q: You're the greatest swimmer of all time, and probably the greatest Olympian. Where would you rank yourself as a golfer?

A: I'm terrible, and I know that. I've had two lessons in my life, both from Hank [Haney]. I can find a shot here and there that I get super excited about, but if you asked me to duplicate that shot over and over, it'd be impossible.

Q: What's your handicap?

A: What's the max? [Laughs.] The first time I played 18 holes and kept score, I shot 106. That was a little over two years ago. My best score since then is 91, at Longview [now called Fox Hollow, outside Baltimore], where you can play from any fairway.

Q: What'd Hank do with you in those first lessons?

A: It was at my foundation's golf event a couple of years ago. He changed everything: my grip, how I approach the ball, my swing. He wanted me to get in the habit of doing things the right way. After the range, we played a few holes, and I was like, 'I don't want to hit another ball!' And Hank would be like, 'Again! Again! Tee up another one!' It was so frustrating.

Q: What are the strengths and weaknesses of your game?

A: I can hit the 3-wood and driver relatively straight-ish. Iron shots are really hard for me, and anything under 100 yards, I don't feel confident enough to let the club do what it's supposed to do.

Q: Any idea how far you can drive it?

A: It's not consistent, but when I catch one it's probably close to 300, or maybe a little bit more. But I need to learn how to hit it in the fairway.

Q: Ever lost it emotionally on the course?

A: Oh, yeah, I've thrown clubs. I launched my 7-iron and managed to get it stuck in a tree. All my buddies were laughing because they know how competitive I am. They love torturing me in the only sport I can't beat them.

Q: What course have you played most?

A: Probably Longview or Caves Valley. I really like Caves. The only thing that kind of sucks is, you've got to walk, and I hate walking.

Q: Michael Phelps hates walking?

A: I'm so lazy! Whenever I was out of the pool, I didn't want to move. I'm definitely a cart golfer.

Q: Most embarrassing moment on the course?

A: A buddy and I were in one cart, and friends in another cart thought they could squeeze through this tight spot, and their cart fell in the trap. It was so bad, in a very deep bunker.

Q: Did anyone see you?

A: We all got in pretty fast and lifted the cart out before anyone noticed, but I was pretty nervous. Not good.

Q: I don't guess there were any beers in that cart, were there?

A: Oh, there are definitely days when you get a few beers in there. It's nice to be out there and not have to worry about anything.

Q: Some people don't accept golf as a sport and golfers as athletes. What's your take?

A: I don't know how anyone could think it's not a sport. Tiger, Rory, most of those guys on the tour? They're definitely athletes.

Q: How do the nerves you feel playing golf, especially in front of strangers, compare to the nerves you felt on the starting blocks?

A: I never really felt nerves swimming. Jumping in the pool is what I've done for 20 years. But I get nervous playing golf in front of strangers. I hate it. 'Fore!' is something you hear from me a lot.

Q: You won eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics, and then you used your $1 million bonus from Speedo to launch the Michael Phelps Foundation. Why?

A: I've always wanted to give back to kids. Maybe that's because my mom has been in education for a long time. But helping kids live active and healthy lifestyles, helping them with goals and, especially, teaching them to be water-safe is a great passion.

Q: Step 1 of your 'im' program, is called 'im safe,' as in 'I am water-safe.' Explain.

A: Not many people realize that drowning is the No. 1 or No. 2 cause of death worldwide for kids 14 and under. Our program teaches kids how to swim and how to be safe in the water. A lot of them are afraid, and some parents don't want their kids going near it. One little boy from the Bronx tried and tried but couldn't pick it up. He came back the second year and couldn't pick it up. Finally, in the third year, he learned how to swim. Not only that, he's comfortable in the water and enjoys it. It shows that if you want something bad enough, you can get there. That was me. I was just a kid with a dream. And I didn't let anything stand in my way. I want kids to know dreams can come true.

Q: Is that what you're telling yourself about becoming a scratch golfer?

A: I've been able to pick up so many things so easily, but ever since I picked up a golf club it's been the most frustrating thing ever. But I want this. All I want is to be able to compete with, and beat, all of my friends. And I have friends who are scratch golfers. No one's forcing me to play golf. If it were easy, everyone would be a scratch golfer.

Interview conducted by Craig Bestrom; Click here to visit

Photography by Walter Iooss Jr.

Getty Images

Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

Getty Images

DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

Getty Images

Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

Getty Images

Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods