Hawk's Nest: Collapses bookend Florida swing

By John HawkinsMarch 24, 2014, 2:30 pm

Golf can do worse than to have Adam Scott emerge as its mainstream poster boy. The guy is James Bond handsome, thoughtful and articulate, and if Scott doesn’t have charisma oozing from his pores, nobody ever accused Tiger Woods of owning a 10-gallon personality, either.

As the Woods Dynasty staggers toward destinations unknown, our game finds itself in search of a new superhero. Tiger hasn’t worn the cape in a while, anyway, but with the Florida swing in the rear-view mirror and the Masters just a mile or two up the road, it has become increasingly difficult to identify the world’s best player.

You could make a case that it’s still Tiger, but when you haven’t won a major title in 5 ½ years – or a tournament of any size in eight months – you’ll need a good lawyer. Meanwhile, Florida began with the game’s brightest young star blowing a huge Sunday lead at PGA National, then ended with the best semi-young player squandering an even bigger lead at Bay Hill.

Scott and Rory McIlroy have proven, yet again, that greatness is a tough fish to hook – and no easy chore to haul into the boat. Woods never drifted back to the field in his heyday. Bob May almost killed the Tiger Slam. Chris DiMarco came close to slaying the beast a couple of times, but it wasn’t until Y.E. Yang that a vastly inferior player caught Red Shirt on a day when he wasn’t wearing his bulletproof vest.

The less these would-be superstars accomplish, the more astounding Woods’ feats of superiority become.

I THOUGHT THOSE things were illegal,” my buddy, a non-golfer, said of Scott’s putter during our phone conversation Sunday afternoon.

“Not yet,” I explained. “The rule doesn’t go into effect until 2016, so the USGA guys have plenty of time to move to a deserted island before the pros start missing 3-footers.”

There are times when those who don’t play this game see it with more clarity than those who do. “This guy [Scott] ought to think about switching before then,” Mike replied. “Tomorrow wouldn’t be a bad time.”

Scott’s putting woes obviously cost him in a big way at Bay Hill – not just a victory, but the No. 1 spot in the world ranking and a perfectly timed bolt of Masters momentum. “It was nice, the first couple of days,” he said. “But it’s a different story when you’ve got to hit a bunch of 6- and 10-footers with the pressure on.

It’s easy to think that a 33-year-old guy who carries a broomstick will have his confidence shaken by such a poor final-round performance, and that was certainly the message conveyed by the NBC fellas who handled the telecast. I would beg to differ. Scott suffered one of the most unsightly collapses in major-championship history down the stretch at the 2012 British Open, then rebounded to win at Augusta National 8 ½ months later.

He has dealt with crises before and figured out a way to overcome them. Ranked third in the world in mid-2008, Scott had become a forgotten man just a year later, and then rebuilt his career largely because he committed to the long putter. The question isn’t what he’ll do in two weeks, but what he’ll do in 2016.

Scott hasn’t finished among the PGA Tour’s top 100 putters since 2007. Some of the rankings during that stretch have been ghastly: 178th in ’08, 180th in ’09, 186th in 2010. The numbers have gotten a little better since, but as top-tier players go, Scott has been giving back at least three strokes per week to his primary competition for a long time.

Here’s the funny thing – Scott led the Tour in putting in 2004, his second full season. He slipped to 102nd the following year and has never really recovered. Because he drives the ball so effectively, he has continued to win tournaments and gradually ascend to a spot among the elite, but he’s still the worst putter on anyone’s list of the game’s 10 best players.

“I read the greens poorly, I must say,” Scott said of Bay Hill. “You need confidence in that, too, and after missing a couple, doubt starts to creep into your reads. You need to be certain, and I just wasn’t 100 percent on.”

Hey Adam, that caddie of yours has seen a few putts holed at Bay Hill over the years. It wouldn’t be the dumbest thing ever if you called in Steve Williams for a look.

SOMETHING HAD TO be done. Not because the World Golf Hall of Fame is a bad idea or poorly operated, but because the induction process was flawed. At some point soon – some might tell you it happened five years ago – golf was simply going to run out of worthy candidates, which could have led to compromised standards and other credibility issues.

So change was needed, and change has occurred, with commissioner Tim Finchem revealing the alterations this past weekend. The biggest is that the induction ceremony will now be a biennial event, which alleviates the aforementioned problem, although it stands to reason that you didn’t have to enshrine someone just because you had a big party scheduled.

The idea of a 16-person Selection Sub-Committee also makes sense. When you send out a bunch of ballots in the mail and let grandma in on the voting process, strange things are bound to happen. The new eligibility requirements are also a good idea, although I’m a trifle disappointed the minimum age of 40 wasn’t raised by at least 10 years.

I’m not a fan of active, highly visible tour pros going into the Hall when they’ve still got a lot of golf left. That said, this was a big step forward for the WGHOF overall. You can’t measure the effect these changes will have on the product, but if perception is 90 percent of reality, this was a 90-percent success.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told GolfChannel.com. “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”