These guys aren't vanilla: Pros speaking out over schedule

By Jason SobelSeptember 9, 2014, 7:36 pm

ATLANTA – We often hear this tired refrain, usually decried by hackneyed observers far removed from day-to-day insights into the game: Golfers are boring. They’re vanilla. They’re bland. Never say an interesting word, let alone a controversial one. Never have a strong take from their perch atop the middle of the fence.

This is a stance which has afflicted the game for years, drummed into the heads of golfers who might not have realized how unremarkable they really are. But it’s forced a change. They’ve gradually become more cognizant of it, especially younger players who haven’t been coached up in the language of rhetoric and might be too naïve to be unthoughtful.

What’s happened as a result isn’t quite a revolution, but it is a revelation: These guys are intelligent, own strong opinions and aren’t afraid to let the world hear certain viewpoints. Maybe not on weighty political affairs, but at least on the world as it affects them.

All of which leads us to recent perceived moaning and groaning about the FedEx Cup playoffs and the latest Catch-22 which has ensconced the game.

As it stands, these players – the ones who don’t want to be considered boring or uninteresting or fence-sitters – have been asked about the grind of competing four straight weeks after a grueling season. They are questioned about fatigue and focus. The queries are undoubtedly leading the witnesses.

To their credit, most have spoken their minds. They’ve been completely honest on how they feel about competing so many weeks in a row without so much as a brief respite.

“I'm in desperate need of some rest,” defending FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson said before being ousted from the playoffs. “Of course, it's a little disappointment not making it back. ... It wasn't to be this year, but I finally get a bit of a break. You know, if you got some of the guys who are playing 66 percent of my schedule are worn out and struggling, I guess you can understand that I'm a little bit fatigued as well.”

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“Somehow managed to not fall over this week,” Geoff Ogilvy admitted after last week’s BMW Championship. “I'm pretty tired. The altitude wears you out. And this many tournaments in a row wears you out, too. ... To be honest with you, I'm not a hundred percent excited about playing golf next week, but I'm really excited about what making the Tour Championship does for you.”

“It's been a long year, a lot of tournaments,” agreed Sergio Garcia. “A lot of tournaments out there and that also take as little bit out of you. But I can't be disappointed with it.”

It’s not just them, either. From Phil Mickelson taking his ball and going home after two rounds last week to Rory McIlroy lacking so much focus that he four-putted the same green on consecutive days, players’ words are being endorsed by their actions – and vice versa.

This is a decidedly bad look, no matter which way you slice (or hook) it. When your vocation is professional golfer, people don’t like to hear complaints about your vocation very often.

All of which has led to the laymen among us – you know, those unfortunate scamps who don’t have an opportunity to earn millions of dollars this week and haven’t been forced to play golf for the past month without a break – criticizing the criticism.

It’s a fool’s errand, this business of requesting more honesty, then denouncing the comments wrought from such candor. And yet, the never-ending cycle continues, with thoughts on the FedEx Cup serving as the latest example.

It also hints at a perilous future, one which will only reinforce the stereotypes. If players speak their minds on such issues and remain castigated for their honesty, fewer will continue to be so open.

As it relates to this current topic, maybe it won’t matter that much going forward.

“We don't like playing four weeks in a row in the playoffs, either,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in response to the prevailing opinion. “We think in the playoffs there should be a break week. We didn't do that this year for some unusual reasons. I can tell you right now it's not going to happen in the next few years. We already know basically the schedule – and there will be a break week.”

That should be received as excellent news for those who have had the gall to speak their minds recently.

Hopefully it will be considered a win for those making their opinions known. Because the last thing we should wish for is a group of boring, vanilla, fence-sitters amongst the game’s best players. Their criticisms might forever be criticized, but it still beats the alternative.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.