Hawk's Nest: Glib McIlroy, gloomy Women's British

By John HawkinsSeptember 16, 2012, 8:25 pm

LIFE IS an unraked bunker. You find yourself in a spot of bother and execute a clean recovery, then groom the sand to make it look like nothing ever happened. Ten minutes later, Gladys skulls her pink lady into the same trap and leaves her footprints all over your handiwork.

I hold the distinction of being the worst bunker player ever while playing off a low single-digit handicap. There came a point several years ago when I needed to bring a pack of diapers every time I played in a state event – bunkers were round-killers and I had the soiled garments to prove it.

For all the talk about Bill Haas’ recovery shot from the water’s edge to win the 2011 FedEx Cup, Jim Furyk almost holed out from greenside sand at East Lake’s 18th to clinch the title a year earlier. For my money, Haas was a little more lucky than off-the-charts good. Furyk’s shot was every bit as clutch, but the idea that we can even compare the two says nice things about the concept of a big year-end finale.

If only it were actually the end of the year…

WHEN I SPENT a week at Royal Liverpool in July 2006, temperatures were in the 90s, and the golf course, if you could call it that, had basically turned into a set for one of those old westerns where the tumbleweeds blow across the prairie. Not to put the cart before the horse, but every time someone drove by in a buggy, the tires would generate a cloud of dust that made your life miserable for 30 seconds.

Not half as miserable, however, as were the ladies at the Women’s British Open. A seven-club breeze and onslaught of biblical downpours did more than threaten the tournament’s competitive integrity. What began Friday morning as the second round was ultimately wiped off the books, necessitating a Saturday morning restart and a reduction in the size of the field for the final 36 holes.

Changing the rules in midstream bothers me, but when somebody (Jiyai Shin) ends up winning by nine, any complaints about fairness become a waste of breath. That said, I do have a few questions:

• I realize the date was moved because of the Summer Olympics, but mid-September? There are too many open dates on the LPGA schedule to be playing at a time when the women are seen wearing earmuffs and parkas while holding umbrellas that lost their match 5 and 4 to Mother Nature.

• If the second round began because the weather forecast promised better conditions that actually got worse, why does Great Britain even bother with meteorologists?

• How come every time someone claims the No. 1 ranking in women’s golf, they either retire or start playing like a 7 handicap? Yani Tseng won three of her first five starts in 2012, and for a while, looked like she’d never lose again. But that was then, this is now: Tseng hasn’t won since late March and hasn’t factored at each of the last three major championships.

Back at the ’06 British, where Tiger Woods picked up his 11th major title, I remember walking two miles to a pharmacy to buy a fan – the house we were living in didn’t have (and usually didn’t need) air conditioning. When I got there, the dude in the white cloak gently clapped his hands and told me he’d just sold the last one 10 minutes earlier. My guess is, they don’t run out of galoshes in northern England.

AS MUCH AS I’d like to think otherwise, this week’s FedEx Cup finale comes with dubious circumstances. Any of the four guys immediately behind Rory McIlroy can swipe the overall title with a victory at East Lake. I understand it’s the playoffs and all, but there’s something cockeyed about the fact that McIlreally Good can win two postseason tilts and a major, run away with Player of the Year honors and still see his $10 million wind up in someone else’s pocket.

When Furyk and Haas picked up the big checks in ’10 and ’11, the suspense-first system worked. No one had dominated the year to any degree, and though Haas’ triumph certainly raised some eyebrows, you really couldn’t build a strong argument that the format was flawed going into the week.

Issues arise, however, when one player clearly is superior to everyone else over the course of an entire season, which is what we have in 2012. It’s not so much a matter of right or wrong – the playoffs have brought an added dimension to what was previously a very soft part of the PGA Tour schedule – but things such as historic value and competitive substance.

You could look back at the New York Giants’ Super Bowl victories in 2007 and 2011, and with a straight face, say that in neither case were they the NFL’s best team. Still, that doesn’t amount to an injustice – anything but. Both times, New York won three playoff games on the road, an unheard-of accomplishment, then knocked off a favorite in the big game to snag the Vince Lombardi trophy.

McIlroy’s 3,232-point lead over Woods in the standings has been reduced to 250 points heading into the Tour Championship – an “adjustment” made in the best interests of creating final-weekend drama, which is utterly farcical. You want a nail-biter? Go watch “America’s Got Talent” or one of those cliché-stacked Sylvester Stallone movies.

You want an equitable playing field that showcases the finest golfers in the world? Sorry, but you’ll have to look somewhere else.

IT DEFINITELY HAS been a good year for pro golfers on major-network talk shows. Bubba Watson was his usual goofy, unassuming self on the “Late Show with David Letterman” after winning the Masters. And McIlroy earned several strong laughs during a recent appearance on “Late Night With Jimmy Fallon,” exhibiting a much greater level of self-assuredness than when he sat alongside Letterman post-2011 U.S. Open.

Fallon: “Rory, you are unbelievable. You are the greatest golfer in the world right now, I would say.”

McIlroy: “So would I!”

A couple of minutes later, the host mentioned McIlroy’s idolization of Woods when he was but a wee lad. “Now you’re playing against him and you’re beating him,” Fallon said. “Is that tense? Is it weird?”

You might have gotten the sense they worked on this one before the show. “Might be weird for him,” McIlroy replied. “I think it’s great.”

What struck me was the audience response – a bit of gasping amid the laughs and applause. Other than Fallon’s awkward promotion of the hotel franchise that has its logo on the front of McIlroy’s cap, it was a cute little segment.

AS A BACKHANDED tribute/response to Golf magazine’s recent list of “36 Reasons To Love Golf Now,” I thought I’d show off my sunny side and serve up “Five Reasons I Can’t Stand Golf on Any Day of the Week, Anytime, Anywhere….”

• That tiny adjustment in my swing, which worked so well the last time I played but is now corrupting my scorecard, destroying my self-esteem and totally negating any faith I had in the improvement process.

• The 3 minutes, 45 seconds I have to spend looking for someone else’s ball (yes, that’s my official limit). The main cause of slow play is not the seven or eight seconds you spend getting comfortable at address. It’s all that time you spend searching for a shot that can’t be found.

• Those A-B-C-D tournaments, which are wonderfully intended but almost agonizingly laborious. Especially when the D player wants to spend a couple of weeks discussing the break on our 28-footer for birdie, then settles on the left edge and leaves it 12 feet short.

• Some guys keep track, some guys don’t and still others simply can’t. Hey, don’t ask me what score I made after every hole. If you’re not capable of following along give me the card, man. And get yourself an awareness coach.

• The first 4-footer I have after the last 4-footer I missed, which is actually an 8- or 10-footer in my mind. I’m a pretty good putter, but like most people, the ability to shake off the recent past has become a very unreliable trait. Not that talking about it does a whole lot of good.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.