Hawk's Nest: McIlroy should have been forthcoming

By John HawkinsMarch 4, 2013, 2:40 pm

It pleases me to no end when I turn on the Florida swing and see everyone in the gallery wearing a jacket. The players are dressed in sweaters, the wind is howling like my seventh-grade science teacher, and all of a sudden, Connecticut in early March doesn’t seem like torture.

If you’re a cold-blooded type sentenced to life in an arctic climate, 2013 has gotten off to a great start. The season began with a Hawaiian hurricane. We snickered when 3 inches of snow fell in Tucson, and when the PGA Tour fled to West Palm Beach for last week’s Honda Classic, it found November in Nebraska instead.

They call Florida the Sunshine State, but after flying to Orlando every week for four years, walking out of the airport and feeling Mother Nature’s gnarliest breath hit me in the face, I know it’s just a tourist lure. Nicknames such as “Hell’s Real Kitchen” or “Perspiration Nation” probably wouldn’t sit well with the chamber of commerce.

So they came up with something a bit more positive. Oh sure, the sun does shine in the Sunshine State, usually after three hours of mean-spirited clouds and a biblical thunderstorm. Ninety degrees isn’t a golf-cart mandate – it’s a thermometer reading at 7:45 a.m. And when it gets chilly? Sorry, but you are unworthy of sharing my pain.

The temperature here climbed all the way to 38 today. Fahrenheit, not Celsius.

IT HAPPENS ALMOST every week in the auspiciously entitled world of professional golf. A player gets off to a lousy start, misses a 5-footer for bogey on the seventh green, then feels a tweak in his back or a twitch in his knee. Six players failed to complete 36 holes at last month’s Northern Trust Open, including Sean O’Hair, who fired an opening-round 83.

Dustin Johnson quit after 27 holes in Honolulu. Four guys withdrew before the cut at Torrey Pines. What Rory McIlroy did last Friday at PGA National was hardly uncommon, but when you’re 23 years old and you’ve won a pair of major championships by eight strokes apiece, you are never invisible.

You can’t walk off a golf course after eight holes and not expect everyone to notice. You certainly can’t figure that people will buy into your story that you WD’d because of a toothache, a dog-ate-the-homework explanation that ranks with the best in golf history. It’s not that McIlroy is held to a higher standard because he’s the world’s top-ranked player.

It’s just that nobody cares when Alistair Presnell walks off after nine holes, which was the case the day before.

The toothache isn’t really the issue. Pain is a purely subjective matter – it’s not something that can be measured, or in most instances, even questioned. That said, imagine this scenario: McIlroy shakes hands with Ernie Els and Mark Wilson, withdraws from the tournament, then admits:

“You know what? I was playing horribly, embarrassing myself and destroying my confidence with every swing. I was doing myself a lot more harm than good out there. If the PGA Tour wants to fine me or spank me on the buttocks for quitting in the middle of the round, I have no problem with that, but I’m not going to remain out there and play like a 7 handicap when I’ve got some things I need to work on, including my competitive disposition.”

Would you, the serious golf fan, find those comments honestly refreshing or outrageously unacceptable? Charles Barkley has turned candor into a pop-art form. At the end of the day, a lot of people would still call McIlroy a quitter. More, however, would view him as a realist.

WHAT YOU DON’T see every week is a first-round leader who misses the cut, which is what happened to Camilo Villegas at the Honda Classic. A 64-77 combo added up to Villegas’ third consecutive MC, but his substandard play dates back to the start of 2011, when he was disqualified from the season-opener at Kapalua for removing loose impediments.

At this point, Villegas’ decline has evolved into a full-blown tailspin. His best finish in 29 starts since the beginning of 2012 is a T-18 in New Orleans. He saved his Tour card with some decent golf during last year’s Fall Finish, but any confidence or momentum he gained amid that stretch appears to be lost.

While emerging as one of the game’s best young players from 2006-08, Villegas’ success surprised some of his fellow Tour pros. They saw a homemade swing with moving parts and a putting stroke that wasn’t always reliable inside 5 feet, but the kid from Colombia kept getting better and better.

Back-to-back victories in the 2008 FedEx Cup playoffs signified that Villegas had arrived. His slight build was stacked with muscle, and very few players were longer off the tee – Villegas averaged a career-best 302.1 yards per drive in ’06.

Nowadays, he looks smaller, and his drives are more than 10 yards shorter. Here’s a stat for you: In 2011, Villegas ranked 163rd in greens in regulation and finished 109th in the FedEx Cup standings. In 2012, he jumped all the way to fourth in GIR but fell to 148th in the FedEx derby, leaving him out of the playoffs.

The moral to this story? If you can’t putt, it doesn’t matter where you hit it.

GOD BLESS DAVID Duval. More than 10 years have passed since perhaps the greatest career collapse in golf history, but Duval keeps searching, entering tournaments while missing cuts at a prolific rate – 30 times in 37 starts over the last two years.

I got a nice text from him last Saturday night, just to say hello and ask how I’ve been. We had a brief exchange, but when I asked if we could speak briefly on the phone, the conversation went cold. I’m pretty sure the guy is tired of talking about his long-lost game, even to someone he’s known and trusted for 16 years, and I can’t say I blame him.

On the same day the world’s No. 1-ranked golfer quit in mid-round because of a toothache, a former No. 1 showed up for his Friday tee time after opening with a 78. For all the good and bad that has occurred in Duval’s life over the last decade, I have just one question as a journalist:

Why do you keep trying?

There isn’t an ounce of condescension or sarcasm in my inquiry. In fact, I find Duval’s continued efforts to regain his form exceedingly admirable. Other superb players have fallen on hard times over the years, but none fell further or faster – and none tried for so long to figure it out.

Just as pain cannot be measured, neither can mental toughness. Are you feeling me, Mr. McIlwithdraw?

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''