Harrington keeps refreshingly unique attitude

By Jason SobelJanuary 30, 2013, 1:45 am

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Padraig Harrington stands on the end of the driving range beating golf ball after golf ball into a fading late-afternoon sky. The range is located adjacent to the first tee at TPC-Scottsdale, home of this week’s Waste Management Phoenix Open, but it could be anywhere for a global golfer who has been there and done that.

Another city, another course, another week.

Except … it’s not. This one is different.

One of the most loquacious golfers ever to be deposed in an interview room, Harrington has often opined on how it’s so difficult to turn down any opportunities in a world which is home to an overabundance of tournaments. No, he quickly corrects you – an overabundance of “great” tournaments.

Which is the reason why this one is different. The three-time major champion can usually be found competing in Dubai this week, or maybe getting ready for his regular two-event West Coast Swing at Pebble Beach and Riviera.

Instead, he’s here in Scottsdale, taking part in this event for the first time. The man who maintains there are too many great tournaments to play every year has found yet another one to add to his list.

“I really have watched this tournament on TV, and I really appreciate what they've done here, and I feel like it was always an event I wanted to come and see and play myself,” Harrington explained. “I'm a great believer that we have a lot of golf tournaments and a lot of golf tournaments that try and hold them out to be something, and it's nice to have variation. It's nice to come here and [see how] very much they celebrate the spectators this week.”

If that sounds like a refreshingly unique attitude, it should. At 41 years old, Harrington is at the point in his career where he should be dropping events from his schedule, not adding them. Well, that’s at least the strategy from many of his peers, those of whom are so set in their ways that they’d rather schedule another root canal every year than another tournament.

Of course, Harrington has never been one to go along with the crowd. He’s a constant tinkerer, a fact that is literally written across his face this week. In the offseason, he decided his eyesight needed some work, so despite 20/20 vision he showed up here wearing prescription eyeglasses.

There will undoubtedly be plenty to see. This event annually draws more than 500,000 fans behind the gallery ropes, making it the biggest party in golf. For a self-proclaimed teetotaler, Harrington will be able to do some first-class people-watching.

“It's a great thing when you see golf tournaments that get a little niche,” he said. “It's very important in this day that all the golf tournaments can't be the same, and it's important that each tournament has to find a little niche in the market to try to strive themselves different. Obviously the Waste Management Phoenix Open has done that with their spectators. They created a completely unique event in golf, and that's a great thing. So that's why I'm here, because of that.”

That alone should be enough to ingratiate Harrington with these fans. While many players are serenaded with a chorus of jeers for poor shots – or even more often, no reaction at all for any shots, with the tournament hardly providing distraction from the party atmosphere – the willingness of a world-class player to add this event to his schedule for the sole purpose of checking it out should sit well with observers.

And if it doesn’t, just wait until he tries to pull off the improbable – a hole-in-one at the famed 16th hole in front of 15,000 screaming fans.

“I'm thinking about pulling a shirt over my head and running down to the green if I hole out,” he quipped with a laugh. “That's a soccer celebration, and with my six-pack and everything, it would look perfect.”

It sure would, the man who was interested enough to see what this tournament is all about hitting the one shot that would forever make him a part of folklore ‘round these parts.

That’s just Padraig being Padraig. Most golfers with three major wins and victories all over the world and dual membership on the game’s two biggest tours aren’t looking for more work, but Harrington isn’t most golfers. He understands his role as ambassador and has a naturally curious side that is once again rearing its head this week.

When asked Tuesday if he likes desert golf, Harrington smiled knowingly.

“I like golf,” he said. “To be honest, if they were playing for $6 million out there on a runway out there at the airport, I'd still tee it up.”

Yes, Harrington is a different type of guy when it comes to elite pro golfers – and that’s exactly why he’s playing here this week.

Getty Images

Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

Getty Images

Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.