Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

By John FeinsteinApril 11, 2017, 7:23 pm

The first half of Masters week was about who was absent.

Tiger Woods made a brief appearance at the Champions Dinner on Tuesday, then disappeared so quickly it was hard to be certain he had actually been there.

On Thursday morning, Arnold Palmer’s spirit was very much present during the opening ceremony, but the tears shed by both Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player as they hit their tee shots were a reminder that the Masters would have go on without him.

And then, a few hours later, came the news that the world No. 1, Dustin Johnson, wasn’t going to make it off the first tee, the victim of a fluke accident – a slip on the steps of his rented house that wrenched his back.

And so, it was left to the other 93 players to go about making history, because when the dust clears on Masters Sunday every year, someone makes history.

A year ago, it was Danny Willett, blowing past the faltering Jordan Spieth to become a Masters champion. Willett culminated a difficult 12 months since he slipped on the green jacket by beginning the tournament 6-6 on Thursday, then opened his second round with a quadruple bogey-8 on the first hole and missed the cut by a shot.

Charley Hoffman was the star the first day, shooting a miraculous 65 on a day when the scoring average was just over 75, giving him a startling four-shot lead on the field.



By Friday, Hoffman had come back to the pack and a name popped up on the leaderboard that raised eyebrows and produced murmurs and questions that had been heard often in the past: Sergio Garcia.

Bill Clinton was president in 1999 when Garcia barged onto the golf scene at age 19. He was low amateur at the Masters that year and got to share the stage during the awards ceremony with one of his boyhood heroes, Jose Maria Olazabal, who won his second Masters that year.

Four months later, as a brand new pro, he chased Tiger Woods to the finish line in the PGA Championship. A little more than a month later, he became the youngest player in Ryder Cup history and played very well the first two days as Europe built the 10-6 lead that the Americans would overcome on Sunday.

He was El Nino – the boy – and he was going to be Woods’ challenger in the 21st century. He was the Spanish successor to the legacy of Seve Ballesteros and Olazabal.

Only it didn’t quite work out like that. Garcia was a very good player but he never lived up to the potential he had flashed as a teenager. He won on the PGA Tour; he won in Europe and around the world. He was a superb Ryder Cup player, part of five winning teams.

But the majors eluded him. He came close, barely missing a 7-foot putt at Carnoustie that would have won The Open, before losing a playoff to Pardraig Harrington. A year later, at Oakland Hills, Harrington caught him from behind to beat him at the PGA Championship. In all there were 22 top-10 finishes, but no victories. He had a Hall of Fame resume with one massive, glaring hole.

He wore the label, Best Player Never to Have Won a Major, for a while and then lost it when his game went south – notably in 2010 when he took a break from playing because he was so discouraged. He went to the Ryder Cup that year as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains, a week that turned out to be a crucial moment in his career.

“It made me realize how lucky I had been to play in so many Ryder Cups,” he said one evening last year. “It reminded me how much I loved golf, how much I enjoyed competing. I was still young – I had only just turned 30. I knew there was time for me to play well again.”

The most important part of Garcia’s epiphany during that week in Wales was realizing he’d been lucky. He had never thought that way in the past. There had always been a woe-is-me side to him, in spite of all the money he’d made; the relationships he’d had with glamorous women; the victories he’d had through the years.

That changed, not all at once, but gradually. Two years later, after a bad day at the Masters, he told reporters he didn’t think he had what it took to win a major. It was a startling comment, especially since, at 32, he was a year younger than Phil Mickelson had been when he broke through at Augusta; two years younger than Ben Hogan had been when he won his first major. At that point, many figured that the time for Garcia to win a major had passed.

There was one more low moment, the foolishly insensitive comment about Woods and fried chicken during a European Tour dinner the week after he and Woods had traded barbs at The Players Championship. The two men never liked one another – some of it was competitive, but much of it was personal.

“That was a low moment,” Garcia said. “A lot of it was because I was the one at fault. Tiger and I just never hit it off. We’re very different people. But that wasn’t an excuse for me to say something like that.”

The fact that Garcia could point the finger at himself three years later was a sign of his maturation.

He talked last Friday about how he had finally learned to accept the good and the bad on the golf course, especially at Augusta, a place that will take away just as quickly as it gives.

On Sunday, Ballesteros’s 60th birthday, Garcia backed up those comments. By the time he and Justin Rose got to the 10th tee, it was almost a certainty that one of them was going to be the Masters champion. Garcia promptly went bogey-bogey to drop two shots behind and then smacked his tee shot on 13 off a tree and into a bush, where he had to take a drop.

At that moment, it looked as if Rose might stroll to his second major title. He was in the fairway, in prime position to make birdie. Garcia had to layup with his third shot. Somehow, he got up and down for par. Somehow, Rose failed to make birdie, missing a 6-foot putt. What could have been a three- or four-shot lead was still only two.

Given life, Garcia responded as he had never responded in the past: two great shots led to a birdie at 14; two more great ones led to an eagle at 15. Suddenly, it was a tie ballgame and it stayed that way through 18, both men missing makeable putts as the pressure built.

One might have thought Garcia had again missed his chance when his 6-foot birdie putt at 18 slid right. But Rose gave him an opening with a wayward tee shot on the first playoff hole and this time Garcia’s birdie putt – when all he needed was a two-putt – found the hole and his knees buckled in disbelief. Eighteen years later, El Nino had finally grown up to be a major champion.

It was a victory greeted with cheers by virtually everyone in golf. Even Rose, as gracious in defeat as anyone could be, talked about how happy he was for Garcia.

Now, the Hall of Fame resume is complete. Now, there will be no more questions about not winning a major, about what might have been.

Last fall, after hearing chants of “no majors” throughout the weekend at Hazeltine during the Ryder Cup, Garcia said he hoped to be on the European Ryder Cup team in 2020 at Whistling Straits so he might hear a different chant.

“I’d like to hear them chant, ‘one major,’ or maybe ‘two majors,’” he said, laughing. “At the very least, I’d like one.”

He’s got it now. One major, no chants. Few have deserved a victory more.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.