Five predictions for the 2014 Ryder Cup

By Jason SobelSeptember 22, 2014, 7:30 pm

Last week, the PGA of America issued some propaganda that perfectly exemplified the recent struggles of the U.S. Ryder Cup team – even if it was clearly unintentional.

The organization began circulating movie-type posters featuring captain Tom Watson and the names of his assistants and 12-man roster, hailing them as "The Redeem Team."

Nice thought, but just like so many other well intentioned ideas for the team over the past decade-and-half, something was destined to go wrong.

And there it was, over in the bottom right corner of the poster. Continuing with the movie theme, the Ryder Cup team was rated "Extreme Drama" – and shortened to "ED."

All that was missing was a tagline: “If your match lasts longer than four hours, consult your physician.”

Here’s guessing the 65-year-old Watson didn’t get too excited about that one.

And here are five more bold predictions entering this year’s edition of the Ryder Cup.

Tiger Woods

1. Tiger Woods’ absence will mean the U.S. team wins – or maybe loses.

Those who regularly pray at the altar of Tiger Woods Is The Worst Person Ever have readily kept this statistic handy for daily message board comments in caps lock, oozing with vitriol: Since the turn of the century, the U.S. has only won one Ryder Cup – and that was the only one that didn’t include Woods.

The unsubtle points here? Tiger is a me-first guy who couldn’t care less about the team; he’d rather hang with his buddies in Europe’s team room; he chokes in big-time competitions and – quite possibly – he hates America.

Just because none of those things are true doesn’t keep people from using these assumptions to back their own story.

OK, so Tiger’s 13-17-3 overall record isn’t exactly the stuff of Billy Casper or Lanny Wadkins. You know who else has struggled for the U.S. side? Everybody. I suppose it’s human nature to want to place blame on a single individual for a culture of losing, but Tiger couldn’t have done this alone. This isn’t the NBA. His teammates can’t stand around setting picks and hope he puts up a ton of points and sinks the game-winner for good measure.

Woods won’t play this week. If the guys in red, white and blue rekindle the magic of 2008, it will once again send the truthers scurrying to their message boards to connect some dots that shouldn’t be connected. And if they lose again, he’ll somehow be blamed for returning from injury too soon during the summer, getting hurt again, taking himself out of consideration for the Ryder Cup and – yes – screwing over his country.

Talk about your lose-lose, huh?

The simple fact is, the U.S. team can win with Tiger or without him, and it can lose with or without him. That might not be enough of a scolding hot take in today’s sports parlance, but it’s the truth. His absence from this year’s festivities won’t mean the team will win any more than his presence would have meant it would lose. 

Ian Poulter

2. Ian Poulter’s eyes will remain inside his skull this time.

First things first: I’m of the belief that even if Poulter finished DFL at the Lake Nona member-member this summer, he locked up a spot on Europe’s team two years ago. No questions asked, no looking back.


I’m still having a hard time buying the narrative that just because Poulter looked like Seve Ballesteros’ spiky-haired second coming at Medinah, he’s going to replicate those magic moments at Gleneagles, too.

Poulter played as if he’d sold his soul to Samuel Ryder last time, his eyes bulging further out of his skull with each birdie celebration. But that doesn’t mean he’ll do it again. That doesn’t mean every putt will drop at this one. That doesn’t mean he’s automatic for five points.

It doesn’t mean anything, really.

What surprises me the most is that it seems like people are fully expecting this. Everyone appears so stuck on the idea that Poulter can simply show up at the Ryder Cup and dominate that they’re forgetting his only top-10s of the year have come in China and Memphis. They’re overlooking that he’s slipped so far in the world ranking that he’s behind Kevin Na. They’re thinking with their memories instead of applying the most logistical strategy possible to analyze upcoming competitions.

Past performance is rarely a predictor of future results.

Just think of the pressure Poulter will be under: He’s playing some of the worst golf of his professional career and he’s being expected to win every match he plays. That’s a dangerous combination. It’s also one that is easy to see not having a happy ending.

If that’s the case, expect the golf world to go into collective shock. When Poulter fails to make everything he looks at on the greens, when his previously bugged-out eyes are being rubbed in disbelief because the birdies are tougher to come by, everyone will insist they didn’t see it coming because it didn’t happen last time. That’s a poor excuse, though, for just failing to see what he’s been doing lately.

Patrick Reed

3. Patrick Reed is going to play better than everyone – except Reed – thinks

People can’t stand Reed. And when I say people, I mostly mean those who don’t know much about him and couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but remember his “top-five” comment after winning at Doral and take personal offense to a golfer believing in his own abilities.

But there might be small factions of people who can’t stand Reed that also have to share a team room with him this week. It’s little secret that he isn’t exactly the most popular guy on Tour. As one player whispered recently, “The next time he eats with us in player dining will be the first time.”

Now, we can sit at the local 19th hole for hours and argue whether being an individualistic guy in an individual sport should really be perceived as a negative, but it’s pretty obvious that this is a player with a major chip on his shoulder who prides himself in proving people wrong.

Well, guess what? If I was building my very own successful Ryder Cup prototype, this exact personality trait might be the first thing I downloaded into the microchip in his cerebral cortex.

Reed is a fiery dude who will have absolutely no problem laughing when the European supporters cheer a poor shot and gesticulating toward them when he hits a good one. He’ll be unlike most competitors who have trouble removing the 51-weeks-a-year of “gentlemanliness” from their Ryder Cup emotions.

That won’t be a problem for Reed. He doesn’t care what people think of him. The irony of that mentality? Employing that exact approach to ruffle feathers and play great golf at Gleneagles might very well endear him to American fans who months ago wrote him off as a cocky kid who needs to know his place.

It will just go to prove that attitude is a wonderful thing to have – as long as it’s on your team.

Matt Kuchar and Lance Bennett

4. Lance Bennett will provide the U.S. team with an inspirational rallying cry.

Back in 2006, Darren Clarke served as the heart of the European side, earning three emotion-filled points in the wake of his wife’s death. Two years ago, captain Jose Maria Olazabal invoked the memory of Seve Ballesteros so often that he was in the forefront of each player’s thoughts throughout the week, both on and off the course.

A team doesn’t have to overcome death in order to claim victory, but it has proven to unify players in the team room, bringing a group of individuals closer together for the good of the cause.

Bennett, the longtime caddie for Matt Kuchar, will be making his return to the bag at Gleneagles. On Aug. 27, his wife, Angela, passed away suddenly. Since then, there’s been an outpouring of support – not only from his fellow loopers, but from players, as well.

That support certainly hasn’t been limited to players on this team and not even just Americans, but having Bennett around should provide an extra jolt of inspiration.

I know what you’re probably thinking: These guys shouldn’t need it. Competing for their country should be inspiration enough. They shouldn’t need the death of a caddie’s wife to make them hungrier to play inspired golf.

The whole situation is analogous to the “Think Globally, Act Locally” campaign. Players can’t see millions of Americans huddled around their TV screens rooting them on. They can’t tangibly feel how much this would mean to a nation that couldn’t care less how many Presidents Cup titles it’s won.

But they can look into Bennett’s eyes and understand what it would mean to him – and what it would mean to his family. There’s no telling the importance that type of impact that could have.

Many of the team’s caddies got together a few weeks ago in Denver. When the subject of Bennett came up, they all talked about wanting to carry him around on their shoulders after a U.S. victory. There’s little doubt some of the players would be right there with them, propping up a likeable man who could use a few smiles these days.

Ryder Cup

5. If you’re expecting a blowout, go watch the Presidents Cup.

Since these are bold predictions and the U.S. team is a lowly underdog and – full disclosure – I’m an American-born citizen, this is probably the part where I’m supposed to go full Lee Corso. You know, slip under the desk for a minute, and then emerge in patriotic regalia topped by an Uncle Sam chin beard and top hat while orchestrating the crowd into a hastily contrived version of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Not so fast, my friends.

Despite my birthplace allegiances, when it comes to international team competitions, I’m only a fan of the law of averages.

That’s why this missive from former assistant captain Paul Goydos, as part of his keynote address during the recent U.S. Senior Amateur and reported by Sports Illustrated’s Gary Van Sickle, rings so true.

“The Ryder Cup is basically a coin toss,” Goydos told the crowd. “If I tossed a coin 10 times and it came up heads seven times, I wouldn’t immediately think that coin is defective.”

This should come as good news to a U.S. roster which has been accused of being defective pretty frequently over the years.

And really, it’s being accused of this before the first shot is even struck this week. Phil Mickelson gave up on the FedEx Cup. Jim Furyk can’t close on Sundays. Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson are no Billy Horschel and Chris Kirk. Pessimism has reigned supreme in recent weeks.

What I haven’t heard – and again, call it an American bias if you will – is similar worry over the state of the European team. Martin Kaymer has looked eminently mediocre since the U.S. Open. Lee Westwood has looked that way since the last Ryder Cup. Stephen Gallacher and Jamie Donaldson are unproven on this stage. Victor Dubuisson is a wildcard in every sense of the word.

So, why is Europe considered such a heavy favorite? Beats me. I think it’s some combination of the fact that Rory McIlroy looked unbeatable for a month, Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia have looked unbeatable in this competition before, and they’re playing a home game.

But those things should hardly spell doom and gloom for their counterparts.

Think about it: For years, the American side was a prohibitive favorite “on paper” and yet those plucky Europeans would look like the dominant team once it started.

There are a few logical conclusions here. One is that it’s brutally difficult to play with a target on your back, especially on home turf. The other is that a coin which lands on heads seven times out of 10 is likely to come up tails at some point.

This will be that point.

Even though they’re not supposed to win, even though Europe is the favorite and the U.S. is without some prominent potential team members, even though pessimism has reigned throughout the 50 states, this column is about bold predictions, so here it comes:

The U.S. will win the Ryder Cup.

Somebody pass me that Uncle Sam top hat.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.