Hawk's Nest: Nicklaus speaks the truth on task force

By John HawkinsOctober 20, 2014, 12:23 pm

Old guys never throw each other under the Conestoga wagon, so it should surprise no one that Jack Nicklaus recently defended Tom Watson’s rocky Ryder Cup captaincy.

This wasn’t a bouquet of roses, mind you, but a tepid endorsement of the U.S. system and the dispiriting notion that Watson and his staff “probably did a pretty good job” in piloting the Yanks to a five-point loss at Gleneagles.

If you’re an American golf fan, golly gee, you’ve gotta be feeling totally stoked about 2016.

I don’t know about that “pretty good job” stuff, but otherwise, Nicklaus couldn’t have been more perceptive in his post-rout assessment. Anybody who thought this U.S. team was going to win in Scotland was either delusional or drunk on the Kool-Aid. Watson’s mismanagement obviously didn’t help matters, but it’s not the reason the Yanks lost.

The subsequent formation of an 11-man task force, as Nicklaus noted, amounts to a dangerous case of overkill. How many chefs do we need standing over the broth? Most sports-related task forces are born out of tragedy or scandal, not because a bunch of guys in Ralph Lauren sweaters couldn’t make a putt.

Dangerous? You betcha. The pressure on the 2016 U.S. team to win at Hazeltine will be unlike anything previous Ryder Cup squads have ever faced. Factor in golf’s debut in the Summer Olympics that August, and the process of fielding the best possible roster will only become more complex.

For all the hand-wringing and idea-floating to be done between now and then, it’s worth noting that the U.S. has lost with two captain’s picks (2002-06), four captain’s picks (2010-12) and now three captain’s picks. It has continued to lose despite a reduction of the off-course social functions the players found so distracting.

It has lost with mild-mannered, player-oriented skippers (Davis Love III) and intense types (Watson, Corey Pavin). It has won without Tiger Woods when he was the No. 1 player in the world, but lost when it had the top three players in the World Ranking.

We can drive around in circles, getting nowhere all night long. The best way to prepare for 2016 is to act like 2014 never happened, but then, that’s not gonna happen, either.

AS HIS 16-FOOTER for birdie tumbled into the hole on Augusta National’s 18th green, Mark O’Meara raised his arms triumphantly. After 17 full seasons and 218 career starts, his first major title had occurred at the 1998 Masters, certainly one of the most thrilling of the modern era.

There was just one little problem. After holing the putt and accepting a congratulatory handshake from fellow competitor Fred Couples, O’Meara went to fetch his ball — and found a green cap lying on the ground maybe two feet below the hole.

The hat belonged to O’Meara’s caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, who had hurled it into the air in celebratory fashion, which wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t landed on Couples’ line. Freddie still had a short putt for par, making it a humorous and awkward moment, although O’Meara wasn’t exactly giggling as he retrieved the cap himself and walked away.

Having gotten to know Mark O. quite well over the years, I’m thinking last week’s World Golf Hall of Fame induction spurred a similar split reaction — overjoyed by the selection, then perturbed by comments that he’s not Hall-worthy. As good as he was, as long as he was consistently good, O’Meara always carried himself like a man who had something to prove.

So if those logoed shirts could never quite hide the chip on his shoulder, O’Meara was one of the most approachable and likeable tour pros I’ve ever known, a man utterly incapable of snobbish behavior. It’s no wonder he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am five times. A course full of hacks and the six-hour rounds weren’t going to bother O’Meara even a little bit.

But does he belong in the Hall? My perspective tells me that if a majorless Colin Montgomerie got in without having ever won a tour event in America, O’Meara should have made it years ago. His 16 tour victories and two majors trump Couples’ 15 and one, and besides, fellow 2015 inductee David Graham got in with eight Ws.

All that said, I reiterate my belief that the WGHOF standards have gotten too low, and this year’s alterations to the selection process aren’t likely to change that anytime soon. We’re talking about a self-serving enterprise in which those already elected to the Hall decide on who’s next, which leads to cronyism and the occasional popularity contest, which isn’t what such enshrinements are supposed to be about.

SPEAKING OF CRONIES, Ian Poulter and Sir Nick Faldo used to be pretty good buds, but now we’ve got another Ryder Cup-related squabble breaking out and IJP is hopping mad. Psssst: Old Tom Watson was nowhere near this one.

It basically started on the first day of last month’s competition at Gleneagles. Faldo was working the Golf Channel telecast with Terry Gannon and referred to Sergio Garcia as “useless” at the 2008 Ryder Cup — the last time the U.S. defeated Europe. Faldo was the captain of that losing squad, and while numerous whispers of Sir Nick’s inadequacies as skipper have surfaced in the years since, an appointment of British royalty must absolve one of anything that smells like blame.

“Half a point, bad attitude,” Faldo said of Garcia that morning. “Anyway, we move on, six years later.”

Not so fast, Nicholas.

“It makes me laugh,” Poulter writes in his upcoming autobiography, “No Limits.” Faldo is talking about someone being useless ... and the European team suffered a heavy defeat [when] he was captain. So who’s useless?”

Time to yank out the pitchfork.

“There were plenty of things a lot of the players were unhappy with at Valhalla, but none of us criticized [Faldo],” Poulter adds. “He may find that begins to change now.”

First of all, IJP is as good at selling books as he is making putts. Secondly, not even a month has passed since the “useless” comment and Poulter already has his memoirs in manuscript form? Talk about having a publisher running the no-huddle offense ... .

Thirdly, and most notably, Sir Nick has made a nice second career out of saying little on television. He talks about nerves and swing planes, but doesn't seem to know much about today's players.

In recent years, however, Faldo has been particularly critical of Garcia — one of the few players who has been good enough and around long enough to attract Sir Nick’s attention. This time, his negativity bit him on the cheek, and Poulter, regardless of whether he should have gotten involved, has the teeth of a piranha.

Shall we appoint a task force on the matter?

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.