Hawk's Nest: Good times for Jimmy Walker

By John HawkinsFebruary 10, 2014, 2:00 pm

Imagine if Bud Selig announced that Major League Baseball was lengthening its regular season from 162 games to 200 because Dial, the official soap of MLB, wanted more bang for its sponsorship buck. Between the purist cries of sacrilege and arguments based on common sense, Selig would need more than a deodorant bar to get rid of the stench.

In essence, that’s what the PGA Tour did by conceiving its wraparound season. Six events were attached to the front of the schedule mainly because the Tour’s Fall Series corporate partners were paying millions of dollars to host tournaments that didn’t count.

They wanted relevance – and you can hardly blame them – but it’s not like they didn’t know what they were getting when they signed on with Camp Ponte Vedra. The irony of it all? When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson publicly campaigned for a shorter season in the mid-2000s, the Tour obliged with the FedEx Cup project: 33 weeks plus four playoff events, lest anyone think the fellas back at headquarters never listen to what the players say.

Here we are, 6 ½ years later, and if the season was any longer, they’d have to invent a new month. What’s more, the 2013-14 schedule is front-loaded with mediocre fields. Fifteen of the 42 events will be played before all the world’s best players gather to compete on the same golf course.

It got me thinking. Tennis and auto racing are also individual sports with very little dark time. How often do their superstars show up? Does the guy who runs the Cheez-it 355 at The Glen grumble because Jimmie Johnson skips his race every year?

Not a chance. NASCAR is perhaps the only game on earth that can boast of perfect attendance – every driver who finished in the top 20 last year showed up at all 36 Sprint Cup events. Johnson, meanwhile, has never missed a race since joining the circuit in 2002. It is a streak I find somewhat staggering.

Unless you’re injured, you climb through the window and get behind the wheel. Pro tennis, as you might expect, is a different story. The top guys usually play in 16 to 21 tournaments – roughly the same number as the best golfers. With all its conflicting events and different court surfaces, we’re talking about an odd duck. Everything really does revolve around the majors.

THERE HAVE BEEN several famous men named Jimmy Walker, and that doesn’t include Jimmie Walker, the dude who yelled “Dyn-O-mite!” on virtually every episode of the 1970s sitcom, “Good Times.” You’ve got the former Detroit Pistons basketball player, the late mayor of New York (1926-32) and the guy who has won three of the year’s first 13 PGA Tour events.

That doesn’t necessarily make golf’s Jimmy Walker famous, but it does make him a fan of the wraparound season. I can’t think of another player in the game’s modern era who has toiled in utter anonymity for so long – Walker went winless in his first six full big-league seasons – then rolled out of bed one morning and landed on a pile of seven-figure paychecks.

Jason Dufner sort of did the same thing, but he didn’t win three times in eight starts. Rich Beem went crazy in the summer of 2002, but that flamed out quickly. Mark Brooks leapt from the Tour’s middle class to win three times (including the PGA) in 1996, but he had four prior victories.

Another extreme rarity in Walker’s career is that he has improved his standing on the money list every year since making the Tour in 2008. Guys might do it for three or four consecutive seasons, but seven? That’s crazy. We can talk about the average fields he has beaten and wonder if he has the poise and polish to run with the big boys – he has played in just four majors, three of them PGAs, and made one cut (T-21 in 2012).

A couple of things jump out at you on Walker’s statistical profile, the biggest being that he spends more time in the rough than almost any Tour pro alive. He has never ranked better than 176th on the Tour in driving accuracy, meaning he lives two floors below the basement in that department.

If he wants to make some noise in the game’s most significant events, he’ll either need to start hitting it straighter or have his caddie show up with a lawn mower. Two weeks ago at Torrey Pines, for instance, the fellas found more rough than they’ve seen in a while – and Walker shot 74-71 to miss the cut.

I’m not yet sure how I feel about him being on my Ryder Cup team, but the soft-spoken Texan doesn’t need to do much else to make the squad. When you win three times in a stretch of 13 tournaments, they haven’t come up with a mathematical formula to keep you off the roster.

FRED FUNK AND I go way back. To the late 1980s, in fact, when Funk was a solid-but-unspectacular performer in the PGA’s Middle Atlantic Section and I was slinging deadline copy about a lot of bad sports teams while at the Washington Times.

He made the PGA Tour at age 32, a surprise in itself. Funk won the 1992 Shell Houston Open and seven other tournaments, including the 2005 Players Championship, and ranked 38th on The tour’s all-time money list at the end of last season. If he isn’t one of the game’s great overachievers, I challenge you to name three guys who got more done with a less ostentatious skill set.

At age 57, Funk is still grinding. His status as one of the top 50 career breadwinners earned him a one-time exemption, meaning he’ll take one last stab at tussling with guys who drove it 30 yards past him 20 years ago. Funk will remain a regular on the Champions Tour – he’s looking at eight to 10 events against the 300-Yard Club in addition to 22 or 23 doses of Geritol ball.

“That’s if the glue keeps my body together,” Funk told me this past weekend. “It has been a good ride, a lot of ups and downs over the years – it seemed like my body started falling apart when I turned 50. I like competing against the young guys. I didn’t want to look back and wish I’d used [his top-50 exemption].”

God bless the man. Not many 57-year-olds are looking for such a challenge, much less those with Funk’s recent physical issues. He underwent knee-replacement surgery in 2009, won the U.S. Senior Open that summer, picked up a second senior major (Jeld-Wen Tradition) in 2010, then tore a ligament in his thumb in 2011.

“I finally get healthy and my doctor tells me to go practice,” Funk says. “So I go hit balls and I tear it all over again.”

Last year was a nightmare. Funk came down with a stiff neck and tried to heal himself with a vibrating wand. Instead, he knocked out an ear crystal and spent the next eight months fighting vertigo. For the first time in his life, his back began bothering him. All that and the guy still finished 13th on the Champions Tour money list.

About $21 million ago – before he was cut from the University of Maryland golf team – Funk spent eight years of his childhood boxing at a boys club just outside Washington, D.C. Makes a lot of sense now that you think about it.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.

PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.