Hawk's Nest: Feeling better about Phil's chances

By John HawkinsJuly 15, 2013, 11:40 am

Twenty swings. That’s how long the honeymoon lasts after purchasing a new club – doesn’t matter whether it’s a 60-degree wedge or a $299 driver. You take the stick for a test-drive and it behaves wonderfully. You walk into the pro shop and hear all the right things. Optimism rules. Life is about to get a lot better.

And for a couple of rounds, life does, but like a college girlfriend or your first real job, things begin to go south soon after you make the commitment. What worked last weekend doesn’t work anymore. Those 15 extra yards? Twelve are heading dead-right. That backspin out of the bunker disappears like someone who has fallen two car payments behind.

You see, golf clubs are people, too. They are moody and opportunistic. They have friends back in the pro shop who haven’t been bought – all that stuff about birds of a feather is true. Before long, distress leads to disgust, which yields a hapless realization. Maybe you’re just not very good.

You’ll be back, of course. Golf has a way of recycling the pain, a method of turning sheer incompetence into 20 gallons of hope. Some would call that perverse. The rest of us call it an industry.

DID SOMEONE SAY pain? Phil Mickelson has a few war wounds in his medical history. Six runner-up finishes at the U.S. Open, a near-impossible accomplishment when you think about, but also four major titles and 41 PGA Tour victories while trading elbows with the most prolific winner the game has ever seen.

Over the duration of his stellar career, however, no tournament has given Mickelson more trouble than the Open Championship, which is why Sunday’s triumph at the Scottish Open came decked out in so much intrigue. Does beating Branden Grace in a playoff instantly vault Lefty onto the short list at Royal Muirfield? Has he finally found an antidote for his links-golf allergy?

Before we delve into the immediate future, let us quickly review Lefty’s hefty past. Only twice has he seriously factored at the British – a T-3 in 2004, a T-2 with Dustin Johnson behind Darren Clarke in 2011. Neither featured one of Mickelson’s late faltering acts, so this is a very different animal than the one he dealt with at Merion last month.

That said, emotional baggage really doesn’t exist in Mickelson’s world. I’ve known the guy for the better part of two decades. My wife worked with him when he was wearing Hugo Boss apparel back in the late 1990s, and for a while, we were all fairly close. The baby gifts we received from Phil and Amy upon the birth of my oldest daughter remain prized family possessions.

I can only laugh when I host my live chats and come across suggestions that Mickelson is “done.” He’s like those “Friday the 13th” movies in that he never stops coming – we’re talking resiliency as an art form. Would I wager on Philly Mick making big noise or even winning at Muirfield? No, but I wouldn’t be shocked. The win at Castle Stuart certainly makes his case a better one, and there are other reasons to believe he can bust out a run for the claret jug.

• No question, Mickelson is a happier guy and more productive player when his family is around, as is the case on this overseas trip. Some might find that notion silly, but for many years, he traveled without his wife and kids to play in the British. I realize he’s a grown man and all, but that doesn’t mean it was a trip he was dying to make. Removed from the comforts of his native culture, I think Mickelson used to get a little bored Over There, and his competitive edge would suffer.

• When you’re born and raised in Southern California, you don’t play much golf on breezy, rainy, 53-degree days. The same could be said of Tiger Woods, whose three British Open titles all came in nice weather – two of the weeks were absolute scorchers. Mother Nature was in good spirits again at Castle Stuart, which certainly helps explain why Philly Mick hung around until Sunday, then snatched a victory when others began stumbling.

Lord only knows what fun stuff they’ll play in this week, but at age 43, Mickelson has gotten to the point where he knows he doesn’t have a ton of major championship starts left in his career. Mentally, he’s more prepared for anything thrown at him. His focus is sharper, his attitude healthier. His appreciation of the links dynamic has become obvious, which wasn’t exactly the case a decade ago.

• He may not be the greatest wind player who ever lived, but more than perhaps any top-tier tour pro, Mickelson is a right-brain type who relies on shot-making instinct and visualization to be successful. His legendary short game hasn’t been such an asset at the British, where the ground causes the ball to do different things, but for years, he’s been flying over early to play in the Scottish Open, looking not only to get acclimated, but for a competitive spark.

This year, he finally got it. I still can’t say I fancy his chances as much as I do some others, but I like them a lot more than I did five years ago. Or last week, for that matter.

THE IDEA OF a 19-year-old winning a PGA Tour event doesn’t blow my mind. I’m actually a bit surprised that Jordan Spieth became the first teenager to do it in 82 years, given the number of weak fields on the schedule and the evolution of kids capable of competing at the highest level in every sport. Sergio Garcia almost won a PGA Championship when he was 19. Fourteen years later, he’s still looking for that first major.

What I find more impressive is the body of work Spieth has compiled in his rookie season: the win at John Deere, a runner-up in Puerto Rico and four other top 10s. Just four missed cuts in 16 starts – that’s not something you see very often from an honest-to-goodness, first-year pro. For all the hotshots that come and go, Spieth is the closest thing to a lock for stardom since Rory McIlroy.

OK, so McIlriches isn’t exactly a grizzled vet. Put it this way: I think Spieth will win more tournaments than Keegan Bradley. He has a premium pedigree – Tiger Woods is the only other player to win multiple U.S. Junior Amateurs. He is an ultra-driven young man, having left the University of Texas after his freshman year, a move many thought questionable.

Then you look at Spieth’s stats. Eighth in the all-around category? That’s crazy for a rookie. Eleventh in total driving, 20th in driving accuracy? Most fellas his age can’t find the fairway with two detectives and a 4-wood. That Spieth ranks 113th on Tour in putting doesn’t bother me in the slightest. He’s playing almost all of these courses for the first time, trying to make birdies on greens he’s never seen.

As highly as I think of Bradley, which isn’t quite as high as many others, I’m interested to see how he’ll perform once the anchored-putter ban goes into effect. The longer I think about it, the more 6-footers I miss myself, the greater the impact I think the ban will impart on the competitive landscape. Meanwhile, nobody will remember this next line:

Jordan Spieth will win a U.S. Open at some point over the next five years. Feel free to tell me what a genius I am after it happens.

True story: I’m covering the 2009 Presidents Cup in San Francisco, my last event at Golf World, and the United States has just crushed the Internationals yet again. It’s about an hour after the final putt, the news conferences have just ended, and I run into Mickelson in the Harding Park parking lot.

“Man, you’re getting fat,” he tells me. “You need to get on a treadmill or something.” Needless to say, I bit my tongue, but only because it doesn’t contain any calories. Mickelson was right – I’d gotten wider than a three-car garage and probably gained a few more pounds just looking at my favorite lefthander.

So I followed his advice. I changed my eating habits, at least for a while, and found a way to exercise without entertaining thoughts of suicide. Hey, if I can lose 22 pounds, Phil Mickelson definitely can win a British Open.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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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.