Hawk's Nest: Picking apart Digest; picking a champ

By John HawkinsApril 7, 2014, 1:32 pm

So I’m at the 1995 Final Four in Seattle, covering college basketball for the Washington Times, with a flight to Georgia early the next morning to do the Masters. There’s a layover in Pittsburgh, however, and just as we’re about to touch down on the runway, the pilot suddenly veers the jet back into the sky.

We circle the airport for another 15 or 20 minutes. A few of the passengers are freaking out, but for the most part, the cabin is full of silent concern and bewilderment. When you’re flying a Boeing 757, you really shouldn’t need a breakfast ball, but we do land safely, at which point I head straight to a pay phone.

“I’m not going to Augusta,” I tell my editor.

“What do you mean?” he replies.

“I’m never flying again. I’ll walk home from Pittsburgh if I have to. I’m still in pretty good shape.”

“You can’t not go to the Masters,” Gary reasoned. “And besides, it’ll probably be another seven or eight years before something creepy happens again.”

Logic is kind of like ice cream – it comes in a bunch of different flavors, including Rocky Road. I boarded my connection and ultimately saw Ben Crenshaw claim one of the most emotionally stirring victories in tournament history, so the next time a man begins sobbing after successfully reaching his destination, don’t just write him off as some fragilely composed sissy.

You never know how difficult the journey might have been.

GOD BLESS THE LPGA. It is a league that earns respect in modest doses, going about its business while barely appearing on the mainstream-sports radar. This causes some uneasy tension when a local media power (such as Golf Digest) runs a picture of Wayne Gretzky’s daughter, who doesn’t play professionally, on its April cover.

We call it eye candy, a commercially driven art form popularized by Maxim and scores of other print publications. For decades, pretty girls have sold magazines, and that’s what this is all about. It has nothing to do with how many majors Inbee Park has won or how good Lydia Ko is going to be. It’s just business, man.

Few businesses have gotten tougher in recent years than the industry that relies on the printed word. The outcry of protest over Digest’s Paulina Gretzky cover feels more like a case of misdirected frustration than an argument built on sound reason – you go home and kick the dog because your boss gave the promotion to someone else.

“If a magazine called Golf Digest is interested in showcasing females in the game, yet consistently steers away from the true superstars who’ve made history over the last few years, something clearly is wrong,” LPGA commissioner Mike Whan said in a statement last Friday. “Growing the game means a need for more role models, and in these exciting times for women’s golf, the LPGA is overflowing with them.”

Actually, you could make a case that a hot blonde with a high handicap and 300,000 followers on both Twitter and Instagram is more valuable to the game’s growth than, say, Natalie Gulbis (188,000 on Twitter) or Paula Creamer (28,000 on Instagram). Still, that’s not the point. Growing the game is not Golf Digest’s primary mission. Selling copies of their product is.

As for the superstar factor, the LPGA doesn’t have one. The two best players of this generation (Annika Sorenstam and Lorena Ochoa) retired early, leaving a void that hasn’t been filled for any extended period of time. Besides, monthly magazines operate differently than a news-based weekly or a golfcentric website.

How to play, where to play, what to play. That’s what appeals to many recreational golfers, and that’s what Golf Digest sells. The competitive element among tour pros is not a high priority, although generating buzz is. As chagrined as the LPGA may be over the Paulina cover, its public disapproval will only help newsstand sales in the coming month.

IN CASE YOU haven’t noticed, I love the Masters. And if you’re Matt Kuchar, who has fumbled great chances to win on each of the past two Sundays, you should love it, too. Phil Mickelson is the only player in the last 50 years to claim a green jacket after winning the previous week – he pulled it off in 2006.

Tiger Woods arrived at Augusta National in 2001 having won his prior two starts (Bay Hill and The Players), but he’d skipped the BellSouth Classic, his customary week off before a major. Here’s a list of all Masters champs since 2000 and how they fared in their three tournaments leading in (results in reverse order).

2013: Adam Scott T-30, T-3, T-33
2012: Bubba Watson T-4, 2, T-17
2011: Charl Schwartzel T-30, T-47, T-24
2010: Phil Mickelson T-35, T-30, T-14
2009: Angel Cabrera MC, MC, T-32
2008: Trevor Immelman MC, T-40, T-48
2007: Zach Johnson T-9, T-42, T-14
2006: Phil Mickelson 1, T-14, T-12
2005: Tiger Woods T-53, T-23, 1
2004: Phil Mickelson 10, T-3, T-24
2003: Mike Weir MC, T-27, T-14
2002: Tiger Woods T-14, 1, 2
2001: Tiger Woods 1, 1, T-13
2000: Vijay Singh T-33, T-29, T-50

All this data means as much or little as you want it to mean, but the fact of the matter is, hot golfers don’t win many green jackets. Woods just won a lot, period, and Mickelson hasn’t done too badly himself, but Bubba is the only guy in recent years who came in playing really well, then culminated that stretch of outstanding play with a major title.

Kuchar should be in a great spot mentally. Yeah, that water ball on the 72nd hole in Houston wasn’t a great idea, but Matt Jones holed a ridiculous chip on the first playoff hole to beat him, and San Antonio (the week before) was kind of a mess for everybody. It’s stupid to think that failing to close the door will help him win a Masters, but you don’t want to sniff the azaleas with a brand-new winner’s check in your back pocket.

MY PICK? I’LL take the Irish Lad. A closing 65 in rainy Houston was the perfect uptick for Rory McIlroy, who has a history of not performing well in lousy weather. He’s too talented and too driven to not contend at some point, and he comes into the week a little under the radar, at least by the usual standards.

As Paul Azinger once told me, “The average golfer hits his long irons too low and his short irons too high. A tour pro wants to do the opposite. Long irons high, short irons low. Especially at Augusta National.” McIlroy might be the best in the game at the high-low thing, and his enormous length off the tee should earn him scoring opportunities that aren’t available to others.

I’ve been telling anyone who will listen that Sergio Garcia is my sleeper. You could look at the results in Houston and think I actually know what I’m talking about, but I don’t like how he finishes. He gets a lead and it looks like something’s bothering him. He leaves putts 6 feet short seven or eight holes into a rainy day – that’s more of a tentative (or nervous) trait than slow greens.

As much improvement as Garcia has shown us in recent months, he still looks agitated by, and therefore vulnerable to, the quirks of competitive golf. The game is hard enough when your blood pressure is steady. If it’s bouncing all over the place? You finish T-37.

TAKE A CLOSE look at the new Web.com commercial featuring Jim and Tabitha Furyk. The ad is shot from two different viewpoints, and when husband and wife are shown at the same time, Tabitha’s hair is parted on the left. On the close-up shots of Tabitha, her hair is parted on the right.

Back to the wider angle – left to right. Another tight shot – right to left. These are the types of very important things you notice when you’re an experienced golf writer, or when you have a next-door neighbor with one of the keenest eyes in the game.

As for Jim, who isn’t wearing a hat, there is no such problem. No hair, no part to worry about, but the guy can move it left to right, or right to left, virtually upon command.

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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.