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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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x