Yips no stranger to legends, but Els' suffering extreme

By Joe PosnanskiApril 8, 2016, 1:00 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At the end, Ben Hogan would just stand over the golf ball, frozen, unwilling or unable to even bring the putter back. “Putting,” he said, “is just like 18 trips to the blood bank in a day to me. Don’t you think I’m embarrassed? Don’t you think it’s embarrassing to hear all those people say, ‘Why don’t he just hit the damn thing?’”

At the end, Tommy Armour so feared the short putts – he once missed 21 putts of 3 feet or less in the same tournament – that he came up with a name for his disease: The yips. “I reached the point,” he told sportswriter Grantland Rice, “where I dreaded to walk on the green, and the putter looked like a fer-de-lance (a venomous pit viper).”

At the end, Sam Snead – who old-timers will tell you had the most beautiful swing in history – was so overwhelmed by his inability to putt the ball in the hole that he began putting croquet style, straddling over the ball, reaching down with his right hand to the bottom of the club and hitting the ball forward. “Here,” Snead once said as he held a putter in the air, “is my personal strait jacket. Me puttin’ is like watching a monkey sitting on a football.”

Why do these tiny little shots, ones children love hitting even around windmills and through clowns’ mouths, bring down the greatest players of the sport? It’s one of the great mysteries of the game. The only thing that isn’t mysterious at all is how painful it is to watch great players suffer.

Thursday, we watched four-time major champion Ernie Els suffer like no great golfer ever had.

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“You have snakes and stuff going up in your brain,” Els said sadly as he tried to piece together the calamity that had just happened. “You know. It’s difficult.”

First hole Thursday, and Ernie Els felt pretty good. He was hitting the ball pretty well. His putting problems the last few years – and particularly the last six months – are well known, but he had been working with a coach on it and felt like it was going reasonably well. “I felt the same way I normally feel in a major,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of these things.”

First hole Thursday, and Els hit a wayward second shot and pitched up to 2 feet. It seemed a certain par and a solid enough start on a windy afternoon in Augusta. Els stood over the putt, brushed it, and hit it about 2 inches left of the hole. It rolled to 3 feet away. That’s putt No. 1.

“I couldn’t get the putter back,” Els would say. “I’ve made thousands of 3-footers, and I just stood there, and I couldn’t take it back.”

Els quickly walked around the hole to his ball and, without thinking, stood over the ball to knock it in for a frustrating bogey. Once again, he pulled the ball about 2 inches left of the hole. It rolled to 3 feet away. That’s putt No. 2.

“What holds you from doing your normal thing?” Els asks. “I don’t know what it is. I can go to the putting green right now and make 20 straight 3-footers.”

Els raced around the hole again and, again, didn’t stop before he putted the ball. He just wanted the darned thing to go in. He just wanted to get off the green and live with his embarrassment. You know that thing kids do at a Putt-Putt course? They will hit the ball back and forth, and then finally they will just pick up the ball and put it right next to the hole before knocking it in. Els had to be thinking about that. He hit the putt and, yes, knocked it 2 inches to the left of the hole. That’s putt No. 3.

What else in sports can compare to this? People often talk about Willie Mays falling down in the outfield. They talk about John Unitas getting sacked and beat up and barely being able to throw downfield. They talk about Kobe Bryant missing jumper after jumper. But those aren’t the same. Those are things that mere mortals like us can’t do even on our best day. Here was Ernie Els, one of the greatest golfers ever, already a World Golf Hall of Famer, and he was missing 2-foot putts badly. “We’ve all been there,” he said, but truth is even the hackers kind of shook their heads. Even they hadn’t been THERE.

For the fourth putt, Els backed off to gather himself. It was a wise move. Other people have four-putted at Augusta. This wasn’t yet a singular moment. The most famous of those four-putts was the great Seve Ballesteros who, when asked to recap it said simply: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.” Els looked at the short putt for a couple of seconds, then stepped to the ball, set his putter, got his balance and pushed the putt 2 inches to the right of the cup. That’s putt No. 4.

None of the four putts, you will note, even GRAZED the hole.

“There’s a short up there somewhere,” Els said of his own brain. “And you just can’t do what you normally do. It’s unexplainable. You know, a lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know, getting that feeling.”

At this point, Els was so frustrated – and the ball was so close to the hole – that he just reached out the putter with one arm and chipped at the ball. For the first time, the ball actually hit the hole, and then it spun out. That’s putt No. 5.

The last putt, the one that finally went in, was a little backhanded motion, the sort of frustrated “I give up” motion that golfers do when their brains have tilted. That’s putt No. 6. There were those on the Internet who thought that Els actually raked the last putt in, which would be an illegal stroke, but 1) I don’t think it was a rake and  2) Who would be cruel enough to call that on Els after he had to endure that six-putt hailstorm.

Anyway, at first people called it a seven-putt – as if a six-putt is not bad enough. It’s still unclear why that happened; the video clearly shows him making six putts. The rumor was that there was some phantom putt that did not make it onto video. “Someone counted it properly,” Els said glumly.

At least that.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” his playing competitor Jason Day said. “I feel for Ernie … I just want Ernie to get back to what he used to do.”

Yes, we all want that. Ernie Els does not deserve this fate. Nobody does, of course, but Els in particular has been a great player and a credit to the game, and he should have the long sunset that comes with such a career. But as simple as it seems to get over the yips, few do. Maybe nobody does. Someone once asked Hogan how to get over those haunting putting issues. His response: Stop playing golf.

“What do you do?” someone asked Els.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe a brain transplant. You tell me.”

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.