Players must be invested regardless of captain

By John FeinsteinOctober 1, 2014, 2:30 pm

Phil Mickelson hit the nail on the head Sunday during the American Ryder Cup team’s post-blowout news conference in Scotland.

He didn’t do it intentionally, but he did it. In one of the more classic passive-aggressive attacks ever seen on a public stage, Mickelson longed for the pod days of 2008 when Paul Azinger was captain, saying he couldn’t understand why American captains who followed Azinger – notably Tom Watson – had failed to see the genius in what Azinger had done.

“There were two things that Paul Azinger did to allow us to play our best,” Mickelson said. “One was that he got everybody invested in the process, in who they were going to play with, who the picks were going to be, who was going to be in their pod, when they were going to play.”

The four key words there are ‘invested in the process.’

Let’s parse the phrase for a moment. In essence, what Mickelson said was this: If Watson had spent more time asking the players in general – and Mickelson specifically – what they thought he should do, the players would have been more invested.

So players need to have the captain consult with them to be invested in playing in the Ryder Cup? Can that be possible, especially after the litany of failures produced by U.S. teams dating to 1995? Can it be possible that American players who know their country has won on European soil once – with Watson as captain in 1993 – since 1981 (1-6-1 with Europe retaining after the 1989 tie) might not be invested in playing unless the captain seeks their thoughts on practice pairings, dinner menus, clothing choices and who wants to play with whom?

Sadly, the answer is yes.

It isn’t as if the Americans don’t try or don’t want to win. They do. Mickelson is sick of hearing that he has a losing Ryder Cup record as a team member (2-8) and as an individual (16-19-6) and the absent Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk are just as sick of having their losing numbers thrown in their faces. There’s no doubt that Mickelson’s response had as much to do with being weary of asked all the ‘why did you lose this time?’ questions as his frustration with being benched by Watson on Saturday.

Mickelson will be the American captain someday. When it was suggested he might be the next captain, he rejected the notion. All players want to play as long as they can. But when Mickelson is the captain, he may find out that the secret to success has nothing to do with pods and everything to do with passion and putts that go in the hole.

No one – least of all Watson – would claim that the captain had a good week. It would be close to impossible to make such a claim after losing, 16½ to 11½. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed should have played Friday afternoon and Mickelson should have rested his 44-year-old body and then come back fresh with partner Keegan Bradley on Saturday morning. Watson stayed inside the box on his captain’s picks – Bradley, Hunter Mahan and Webb Simpson – and none of them did much to help the cause, combining to go 2-5-2.

They certainly weren’t the only ones to not play especially well – has anyone seen Bubba Watson yet? – but if Tom Watson had the picks to do over he might have given consideration to Brandt Snedeker, who in addition to being a great putter would have brought some extra life to the team room; or Gary Woodland, who would at least have brought some of the intimidating length off the tee that was lost when Dustin Johnson suspended himself in August.

But that’s not why the U.S. lost.

“Tom could have put his players out there in alphabetical order or by shoe size and we still would have lost,” David Feherty said. “The reason Europe won was because it was better and it played better. The reason we won in 2008 was because we played better – pods or not pods. It’s really very simple.”

Exactly. It’s that’s simple.

The question then is this: why does it seem that Europe almost always plays better when it has to; makes the putts or the chip-ins that decide close matches? The answer may very well go back to Mickelson: they are more invested in the Ryder Cup.

The captain, whether it’s Paul McGinley or Jose Maria Olazabal or Colin Montgomerie, doesn’t have to consult with his players on who they want to play with or who they don’t want to play with. McGinley decided not to pair Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell last weekend as much because they hadn’t played especially well together in the past as because of their legal entanglements.

It isn’t as if the European players walk into their team room singing “Kumbaya” every two years on the Monday before the matches start. Nick Faldo commented once that the reason he was paired with Montgomerie when Montgomerie was a young player was, “because none of the other guys much wanted to play with me.”

He wasn’t lying.

There’s been plenty of animosity among European players through the years. But it all goes away the week of the Ryder Cup. None of the Europeans come out and tell the media how close they’re becoming by playing ping pong. They just show up on the first tee completely invested in winning.

And then they go out and win.

PGA of America president Ted Bishop asked Watson to captain because he thought the team needed Watson’s tough-love brand of leadership. If Davis Love III had a weakness as captain in 2012 it was that he tried too hard to keep his players happy. Love acceded to Mickelson’s desire to sit out Saturday afternoon at Medinah even though he and Bradey had been absolutely dominant in their three matches.

Mickelson was happy with Love for listening to him but Love not telling Mickelson to take a long hot shower and then go back out and play might have been the turning point of those matches. This time, Mickelson was unhappy with Watson for not playing him and Bradley at all on Saturday.

Which all gets back to Feherty’s theory: You can put the players in pods or in bumper-cars or in ping-pong pods and the outcome of the matches is still going to be decided by who plays better golf.

In eight of the last 10 Ryder Cups the more emotionally invested team has been Europe. The fact that Mickelson, or anyone else, would believe that it is somehow up to the captain to get the players invested in playing the Ryder Cup may go a long way to explaining why the U.S. has been such a consistent loser the last 20 years.

The American players need to figure out how to be 100 percent invested when they step on the first tee regardless of who is the captain.


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LAAC returning to Casa de Campo in 2019

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 8:23 pm

The Latin America Amateur Championship will return to Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic in 2019 (Jan. 17-20), event organizers announced Saturday in Chile, where this year’s championship is underway.

The LAAC champion receives an invitation to play the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club every spring.

The champion is also exempt into The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event for which he is eligible to compete. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.

The championship got its start in 2015 with Chile’s Matias Dominguez winning at Pilar Golf in Argentina. In 2016, Casa de Campo hosted, with Costa Rica’s Paul Chaplet winning. At 16, he became the first player from Central America to compete in the Masters. In 2017, Chile’s Toto Gana won the title at  Club de Golf de Panama.

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Beef's beer goggles: Less drinks = more wins

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 6:07 pm

An offseason spent soul searching is apparently paying quick dividends for Andrew “Beef” Johnston, who is in contention to win Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Johnston acknowledged he was “burning the candle at both ends” last year, playing both the PGA Tour and the European Tour, but he told reporters Saturday that it wasn’t too much golf that hindered his efforts.

It was too much “socializing.”

“I'm a social person,” Johnston said. “If you go out with friends, or you get invited to something, I'll have a beer, please. But I probably had a few too many beers, I would say, to be honest. And it reflected in my golf, and I was disappointed looking back at it. I want to turn that around and have a good season.”

Johnston posted a 6-under-par 66 Saturday, moving into a tie for sixth, three shots off the lead. He said he arrived in Abu Dhabi a week early to prepare for his first start of the new year. It’s paying off with a Sunday chance to win his second European Tour title.

“Last year was crazy, and like getting distracted, and things like that,” Johnston said. “You don't know it's happened until you've finished the season. You’re off doing things and you're burning the candle at both ends. When I got back from last season, sort of had time to reflect on it, I sort of said to myself, 'You've got to keep quiet and keep disciplined and get on with your work.’”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Johnston finished 189th last year in the PGA Tour’s FedEx Cup standings. He was 116th in the European Tour’s Race to Dubai.

Johnston’s fun-loving personality, his scruffy beard and his big-bodied shape quickly made him one of the most popular and entertaining players in the game when he earned his PGA Tour card before the 2016-17 season. Golf Digest called him a “quirky outlier,” and while he has had fun with that persona, Johnston is also intent on continuing to prove he belongs among the game’s best players.

His plan for doing that?

“Just put the work in,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in last year. It’s simple. It showed. So, just get down, knuckle down and practice hard.”

Rory McIlroy at the 2018 Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship Getty Images

McIlroy making big statement in first start of 2018

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 3:40 pm

Rory McIlroy marched the fairways of Abu Dhabi Golf Club Saturday with that fighter pilot stride of his, with that confident little bob in his step that you see when he is in command of his full arsenal of shots.

So much for easing into the new year.

So much for working off rust and treating these first few months of 2018 as a warmup for the Masters and his bid to complete the career Grand Slam.

McIlroy, 28, is poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion Sunday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

With back-to-back birdies to close his round, McIlroy put up a 7-under-par 65, leaving him just one shot off the lead going into the final round.

“It’s good,” McIlroy said. “I probably scored a bit better today, short game was needed as well, but I hit the ball very well, so all in all it was another great round and confidence builder, not just for this week but obviously for the rest of the season as well.”

McIlroy can make a strong statement with a win Sunday.

If he claims the title in his first start of the year, he sends a message about leaving all the woes of 2017 behind him. He sends a message about his fitness after a nagging rib injury plagued him all of last year. He sends a message about his readiness to reassert himself as the game’s best player in a world suddenly teeming with towering young talent.

After his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro, McIlroy is eager to show himself, as well as everyone else, that he is ready to challenge for major championships and the world No. 1 title again.

“It feels like awhile since I’ve won,” McIlroy said. “I’m really looking forward to tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

A victory would be all the more meaningful because the week started with McIlroy paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and reigning European Tour Player of the Year Tommy Fleetwood.

McIlroy acknowledged the meaning of that going into Saturday’s round.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent healthy,” he said. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and one of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

It’s worth repeating what 2008 Masters champ Trevor Immelman said last month about pairings and the alpha-dog nature of the world’s best players. He was talking about Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge, when Immelman said pairings matter, even in off season events.

“When you are the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Immelman said. “They want to show this guy, `This is what I got.’”

A victory with Johnson in the field just two weeks after Johnson won the Sentry Tournament of Champions in an eight-shot rout will get the attention of all the elite players.

A victory also sets this up as a January for the ages, making it the kind of big-bang start the game has struggled to create in the shadow of the NFL playoffs.

Johnson put on a tour-de-force performance winning in Hawaii and the confident young Spaniard Jon Rahm is just a shot off the lead this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour. Sergio Garcia is just two off the lead going into the final round of the Singapore Open. Tiger Woods makes his return to the PGA Tour at Torrey Pines next week.

To be sure, McIlroy has a lot of work to do Sunday.

Yet another rising young talent, Thomas Pieters, shares the lead with Ross Fisher. Fleetwood is just two shots back and Johnson five back.

McIlroy has such a good history at Abu Dhabi. Over the last seven years, he has finished second four times and third twice. Still, even a strong finish that falls short of winning bodes well for McIlroy in his first start of the year.

“I have never won my first start back out,” McIlroy said.

A strong start, whether he wins or not, sets McIlroy up well for the ambitious schedule he plans for 2018. He’s also scheduled to play the Dubai Desert Classic next with the possibility he’ll play 30 times this year, two more events than he’s ever played in a year.

“I’m just really getting my golf head back on,” McIlroy said. “I’ve been really pleased with that.”

A victory Sunday will make all our heads spin a little b it with the exciting possibilities the game offers this year.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.