Hawk's Nest: Dealing with swing problems

By John HawkinsJanuary 20, 2014, 3:00 pm

In a perfect world, every PGA Tour event would seem like a big deal. The game’s best players would show up almost every week, not less than half the time. Those gatherings would be held at the game’s most hallowed venues, not the TPC at Bulldozer Mounds.

Instead of having two major tours – one of which allows a golfer to make more money for entering a tournament than winning it – the leagues would merge and create a dynamic international presence. The season would be trimmed (40 weeks) to maximize player incentive and increase pro golf’s mainstream market value. Isn’t the NFL so successful because every game really matters?

Back when he was preparing to rule the earth like no one else in the game’s history, Tiger Woods played in six of the eight stops on the 1999 West Coast swing. In the last 15 years, however, Woods and basically every top-tier player have dropped one or two of those events to spend part of the early season on the Persian Gulf.

Even Phil Mickelson, a native San Diegan and a homebody if ever there was one, has journeyed to Abu Dhabi twice in the last four years.

This collective migration has weakened the local product. In the simplest of terms, the PGA Tour has suffered because its own players are getting paid to perform for the European Tour, which makes it a rival company. Given the amount of money being exchanged these days, that amounts to an obvious conflict.

Since the players are independent contractors, there’s not much anyone can do. The PGA Tour has added four World Golf Championships and a playoff system to bring the top golfers together more often, but that has hurt the West Coast swing, too. Playing a bunch of early-season events doesn’t have a huge effect on your overall position in the FedEx Cup derby, as the last few years have shown.

Dating back to 2010, those in the top 10 in FedEx Cup points after exiting the West Coast remained there just 27.5 percent of the time. Some of that has to do with the fact that the Mark Wilsons of the world aren't given $200,000 just for traveling to Abu Dhabi – middle-class players aren’t offered the same financial rewards as those in the game’s top tier. Still, that doesn’t do anything to make the appearance-fee premise seem less corrupt.

Woods could begin his PGA Tour season in March, win four or five events and finish atop the regular-season points race by a comfortable margin. Perhaps Camp Ponte Vedra should consider it a blessing that both he and Mickelson will be at Torrey Pines this week. After all, Woods did skip the Farmers, a tournament he has won seven times, to play in Abu Dhabi in 2012.

Blood is thicker than water, and money is stronger than common sense.

TWENTY YEARS LATER, Mickelson rarely ceases to amaze me. His third-round 63 in Abu Dhabi was outrageously good – three strokes better than anyone else in the field. It vaulted him squarely into the mix Sunday, and Mickelson responded with a 68.

There was just one little problem.

He tripled the 13th hole. In typical Lefty fashion, it was as good a triple as you’re ever likely to see.

His 3-wood off the tee landed squarely in a bush left of the fairway. After pondering a drop that would have cost him a penalty stroke, he took a right-handed swipe at his ball with a long iron and double-hit it, leaving him in no better shape than he’d been. At that point, Philip did take relief, so now he’s lying 4 and still has nothing.

He managed to slap a ground ball into a nearby bunker, where the lie wasn’t very good. At this point, Phil’s chili was running a bit hot. Without further ado, he struck his sixth shot (he appeared to be about 100 yards from the green) to the fringe – and holed out a 20-foot chip for a 7.

“If I could just get the ball to go 10 feet, I would have been fine,” Mickelson said of his second shot. “I make my bogey and try to make up ground later on.”

Now there’s a lot to examine and discuss here, some of it relevant to the situation. Some media reports have depicted Mickelson’s decision as reckless, at best overly risky. Anyone who saw the sequence knows that simply wasn’t the case. His options included going back to the tee, which tour pros rarely do, playing the ball as it lay, or accepting the penalty and taking relief as far back as he wanted while remaining in line with the flagstick.

That final option was a non-starter – the entire area behind Mickelson was full of unplayable brush. The verdict? Lefty got unlucky. In golf, bleep happens. When you’ve won 42 Tour events and five majors, it seems to happen quite often, but when you pull off more crazy stuff than just about anyone in golf history, you occasionally wrap your arm around failure’s shoulder.

This situation was remarkably similar to one in the final round of the 2012 Masters, when Mickelson missed the green left at the par-3 fourth and tried to play a shot with one hand and his back to the hole. That one also led to a triple bogey, but of course, Philip had already won the Masters three times by then.

He can play in that tournament until he’s 100 years old if he wants. By finishing T-2 at Abu Dhabi, Mickelson has no obligation to return as the defending champion. He can show up at the Humana Challenge and help a tournament that could really use some star power.

BACK TO 1999. It was a year of memorable performances, none more spectacular than David Duval’s victory at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic. Duval’s final-round 59 has to be one of the five greatest rounds in golf history, majors included. Not only was it the first time someone shot the magic number on a Sunday, it wiped out a seven-stroke deficit and allowed Duval to beat Steve Pate by a single stroke.

Having spent more than a decade in search of his long-lost form, Duval might be more popular as golf’s most famous hardship case than as one of the game’s best players. His collapse and repeated attempts at a comeback are among the most consistent topics on my live chats. A valiant performance at the 2009 U.S. Open (T-2, two strokes back) fueled optimism and thickened the plot, but since the start of 2012, Duval has made just five cuts in 28 starts.

Like a lot of golf fans, I find Duval’s persistence remarkable, but it appears his attempts at a career revival are nearing an end. His status has all but evaporated. Last year’s changes to the Tour’s qualifying process and the wraparound schedule have made it more difficult for unproductive veterans to get starts.

Duval continues to write letters to tournament directors, searching for sponsor exemptions, but at some point, hope collides with reality. “You shouldn’t have to ask for help year after year,” he told me this past weekend. “You have to prove yourself on the golf course. You have to take care of business.”

We don’t talk as often as we once did, but my relationship with Duval has survived nicely through all his ups and downs. No way could I have envisioned the level of perseverance he has shown over the years. There was a time during his prime when he almost seemed bored with the grind of tournament golf – he made it clear during one of our conversations that he could walk away from pro golf and not feel an ounce of remorse.

Go figure: He still sees his game a work in progress 11 years later. A terrible start last season led Duval to swing coach Chris O’Connell, whose work with Matt Kuchar has become one of the modern era’s more notable reclamation projects. O’Connell was able to restore many of the nuances of the unorthodox-but-successful swing that made Duval so good in the old days.

Then, something weird happened. “My putting just got completely disastrous, which is something I’m not used to,” Duval said. “There were weeks when I should have been in 20th place after two days and I’m sitting on 67 putts – no pro golfer can survive that way. At the McGladrey I’m 1 or 2 over and I’ve got 36 putts. Get me back to 29 and I’m right there.”

For all his struggles, Duval’s optimism has remained unyielding – almost too unbreakable when you consider all he’s gone through. I think he originally saw his downfall as a great personal challenge, a chance to show himself what he was made of. As the years went by and things didn’t get better, the guy basically told himself he’d invested too much time and energy in the fight to simply walk away.

He might get into a couple of tournaments before the Masters – the only sure things at this point are the Puerto Rico Open and British Open, which he won in 2001. I’m perplexed as to why the people who run the Humana Challenge (formerly the Hope) denied Duval’s request for a sponsor exemption for a second consecutive year.

Take a look at the names in last week’s field and tell me he didn’t deserve a spot.

Day (68) just one back at Australian Open

By Nick MentaNovember 24, 2017, 6:40 am

Jason Day posted a second-round 68 to move himself just one off the lead held by Lucas Herbert through two rounds at the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand after 36 holes in Sydney.

Leaderboard: Herbert (-9), Day (-8), Cameron Davis (-7), Anthony Quayle (-6), Matt Jones (-4), Cameron Smith (-4), Nick Cullen (-4), Richard Green (-4)

What it means: Day is in search of his first worldwide victory of 2017. The former world No. 1 last visited the winner’s circle in May 2016, when he won The Players at TPC Sawgrass. A win this week would close out a difficult year for the Aussie who struggled with his game while also helping his mother in her battle with cancer. Day’s last victory on his native soil came in 2013, when he partnered with Adam Scott to win the World Cup of Golf for Australia at Royal Melbourne.

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Round of the day: Herbert followed an opening 67 with a round of 66 to vault himself into the lead at The Australian Golf Club. He made six birdies, including four on his second nine, against a lone bogey to take the outright lead. The 22-year-old, who held the lead at this event last year and captured low-amateur honors in 2014, is coming off a runner-up finish at the NSW Open Championship, which boosted him from 714th to 429th in the Official World Golf Ranking. His 5-under score was matched by Dale Brandt-Richards and Josh Cabban.

Best of the rest: Matt Jones, who won this event over Jordan Spieth and Adam Scott two years ago, turned in 4-under 67. Jones is best known to American audiences for his playoff victory at the 2014 Shell Houston Open and for holding the 36-hole lead at the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, which was eventually won by Day. Jones will start the weekend five shots off the lead, at 4 under par.

Biggest disappointment: Spieth has a lot of work to do this weekend if he expects to be in the title picture for the fourth year in a row. Rounds of 70-71 have him eight shots behind the lead held by Herbert. Spieth made a birdie and a bogey on each side Friday to turn in level par. The reigning champion golfer of the year has finished first, second and first at this event over the last three years.

Storyline to watch this weekend: The Australian Open is the first event of the 2018 Open Qualifying Series. The leading three players who finish in the top 10 and who are not otherwise exempt will receive invites into next summer’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

Ogilvy urges distance rollback of ball

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 8:49 pm

Add Geoff Ogilvy to the chorus of voices calling for a distance rollback of the golf ball.

In an interview before the start of the Emirates Australian Open, Ogilvy said a "time-out" is needed for governing bodies to deal with the issue.

"It's complete nonsense," he said, according to an Australian website. "In my career, it’s gone from 300 yards was a massive hit to you’re a shorter hitter on tour now, legitimately short. It’s changed the way we play great golf courses and that is the crime. It isn’t that the ball goes 400, that’s neither here nor there. It’s the fact the ball going 400 doesn’t makes Augusta work properly, it functions completely wrong.’’

Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open

Ogilvy used an example from American baseball to help get his point across to an Australian audience.

“Major League Baseball in America, they use wooden bats, and everywhere else in baseball they use aluminium bats,’’ he said. “And when the major leaguers use aluminium bats they don’t even have to touch it and it completely destroys their stadiums. It’s just comedy.

“That’s kind of what’s happened to us at least with the drivers of these big hitters; We’ve completely outgrown the stadiums. So do you rebuild every stadium in the world? That’s expensive. Or make the ball go shorter? It seems relatively simple from that perspective.’’

Ogilvy, an Australian who won the 2006 U.S. Open, said he believes there will be a rollback, but admitted it would be a "challenge" for manufacturers to produce a ball that flies shorter for pros but does not lose distance when struck by recreational players.

The golf world celebrates Thanksgiving

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 6:01 pm

Here's a look, through social media, at how the golf world celebrates Thanksgiving.

Lexi Thompson:

Baking time!!

A post shared by Lexi Thompson (@lexi) on

David Feherty:

Jack Nicklaus:

GC Tiger Tracker:

Steve Stricker:

Golf Channel:

Frank Nobilo:

Ian Poulter:

Tyrone Van Aswegen:

Happy Thanksgiving: Biggest turkeys of 2017

By Grill Room TeamNovember 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Thanksgiving brings us golf's biggest turkeys of the year. Donald Trump, Grayson Murray and a certain (now-former) tournament director headline the list. Click here or on the image below to check out all the turkeys.