Memory loss: How our brains now interpret Tiger

By Jason SobelJanuary 30, 2015, 11:54 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Our memories are always the last thing to comply.

Our eyes? They know immediately. They divulge the truth. They are the storytellers, the great detectors. They instantly reveal the certainties taking place right in front of us.

Our minds? They trick us at first. They want us to believe that what we’re seeing is an anomaly. Soon, though, they process the information. They help us understand the facts.

Our instincts? They need more time. They’ve been conditioned to react a certain way. They don’t take kindly to change, but eventually, even they can help us accept that things are now different.

But our memories? No, our memories don’t want to budge. Our memories don’t want to admit that what we’ve already experienced – with our eyes, our minds, our instincts – can be so readily altered. Our memories forever recall the glory days. They can paint images in our head of everlasting success. They heartily reject change, because they haven’t yet witnessed it.

In sports, our memories are what allow us to believe that the past remains eternal. They are what tell us it’s an impossibility that a fleet-footed Willie Mays will grow sluggish with the New York Mets. They can’t fathom that a cocksure Joe Namath will appear meek with the Los Angeles Rams.

And for many, our memories prevent us from processing the Tiger Woods who played 36 holes in 155 hesitant strokes this week.

Our eyes knew it immediately. From the timid 4-iron he used to chip on the first hole Thursday to the makeable par attempt he missed on the last hole Friday, they told us that this isn’t the same Woods we knew during those glory days. Our minds didn’t want to believe it at first. Not during his injury plagued last season, when he missed the cut in his last official start and chunked his way to a last-place finish at his own event, but they’ve helped us understand what is taking place. Our instincts needed more time. They led us to conclude that his recent struggles were only temporary, that they were the culmination of injuries and swing changes. Even our instincts, though, are now helping us accept that things are different.

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But our memories are the last thing to comply. They recall the high-arcing tee shot that a brazen 21-year-old Woods once hit on this very course for a hole-in-one – a clip which has been replayed ad nauseum this week. They remember the intimidation factor and the tunnel vision and the myriad intangible skills which made him such a dominant force. And yes, they remind us that this is the same player who has won 14 major championship titles.

Except, it isn’t.

This isn’t the same Woods who won those 14 majors, isn’t the same dominant force and certainly isn’t the same brazen 21-year-old. And now, finally, our memories are helping us discern that. No longer are they only flooded with the positive. No longer do they only allow us to recall those glory days. There are now enough memories of Woods not only failing to win majors, but missing cuts and appearing completely lost, that even they are coming to the realization that things have changed.

Our memories are now filled with visions of Woods posting a second-round 82, his highest single-round score as a professional. They have proof of what our eyes told us, that whether he was using a 4-iron or a wedge or a putter, his confidence around the greens has disappeared. Six times during Friday’s round, Woods failed to get a short chip shot onto the putting surface. That’s hardly excusable for a single-digit handicap; it’s downright indefensible for one of the best players of all-time.

This is nothing new, either. The last time he teed it up competitively, Woods chunked nine of these shots. The time he played before that, he gritted through injuries, but missed the cut. He’s coming off his third winless season in the last five, if we only count official events. Not so suddenly, those memories of majors – which have eluded him for seven years now – have been replaced by other, gloomier recollections.

Now, all we can do is wait. Wait to see whether these current memories can be replaced, whether Woods can reimagine those past successes or laboriously limp into the sunset like Joe Willie and the Say Hey Kid.

Upon his arrival this week, Woods attempted to be prophetic, smiling and hinting toward long-term prosperity. “It’s going to be a fun year,” he said at the time – and there was no reason to think he didn’t believe it.

Prior to leaving the course after missing the cut on Friday, he offered a more solemn response about the future. “Practice each and every day,” he said about his impending chore. “Just work on it.”

And with that, he was gone, leaving lasting memories of a player without confidence and without optimism.

Our memories are always the last thing to comply. After watching Woods’ most recent decline, though, even our memories are now armed with enough images to change our perspective.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 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.