Hawk's Nest: Welcome back, Boo Weekley

By John HawkinsMarch 18, 2013, 12:56 pm

A bunch of my buddies just got back from a golf trip, and though I wasn’t actually invited, I couldn’t and wouldn’t have gone, anyway. Having not touched a club in three months, a four-day bogey bender at PGA National isn’t how I want to start my season. I realize we’re not playing for a green jacket or even a hundred bucks, at least under normal circumstances, but my competitive psyche is fragile. My self-esteem is far from bulletproof.

There’s always the camaraderie factor, but I’m not much fun when I’m waking up in the company of seven men, drinking gas-station coffee and losing three or four balls every nine holes. Besides, that camaraderie thing can be a total mirage. Everybody arrives on the first tee with high hopes and a huge smile. By the fifth green, at least one guy in the foursome is very unhappy, wondering the whereabouts of the nearest ATM and if they’re mature enough not to ruin everyone else’s day.

Of course, PGA National features numerous bodies of water and a three-club breeze more persistent than the bag-drop crew, neither of which goes well with rust or horse manure. So I’ll just wait another month and play a bunch of bad golf close to home. It’s a whole lot cheaper. And so much easier to rationalize.

MAKE NO MISTAKE, there was a Boo Weekley sighting at Innisbrook last week. Largely absent from leaderboards of any size since helping the United States to a lopsided triumph at the 2008 Ryder Cup, Weekley’s closing 63 was easily the round of the tournament – maybe the best anywhere in 2013, all things considered.

To shoot three strokes lower than anyone else on a Sunday is very rare. On a golf course that continues to prove itself as one of the best on the PGA Tour, no less, that 63 carried Weekley into sole possession of second place, two strokes behind first-time winner Kevin Streelman.

But enough on the details. Boo’s emergence as golf’s favorite folk hero six years ago was as cool as stories get – and certainly not an accident. Among the dozens of tour pros described at one point or another as “one of the game’s best ball-strikers,” nobody’s clubface produced a more effective level of percussion than Weekley’s.

I stood on the practice range in Charlotte for 15 minutes one spring, watching him hit it with such purity that he basically stopped traffic. Grown men with a lot of money and things to do were turning their heads to see where that sound was coming from – Boo was flushing long irons like a robot with a pot belly.

His low-trajectory flight would serve him very well at breeze-friendly venues such as Harbour Town, where Weekley won back-to-back titles (2007-08), but a shoulder problem and an eternally inconsistent putter would take him off the map. Perhaps the clearest sign of Boo’s demise came in 2011, when he led the PGA Tour in greens hit in regulation but missed 12 of 23 cuts and had just one top-25 finish.

We’ll find out how “back” he is in due time, but regardless of how Weekley plays from here, he secured a spot in my personal Hall of Fame years ago. I spent a day with him in Milton, Fla., his hometown, where we managed to get through a couple of hour-long interview sessions on his grandparents’ porch, when we weren’t noodling around and doing absolutely nothing.

At one point that morning, Weekley and I were standing at the water’s edge, looking out over the river abutting the family property. “I’ve seen alligators come right up out of here and go after our cows,” he said matter-of-factly, to which I immediately suggested we go to lunch. The Weekleys owned 80 acres, every inch of it traversed by Boo as a kid – he hunted and fished hundreds of times before ever picking up a golf club.

If the setting wasn’t quite a Norman Rockwell postcard, it was down-home idyllic in a lovably plain sort of way, and Boo was purely a product of that environment. Even then, he talked about pro golf as if it were fifth or sixth on his list of things he liked to do. It was a job and he was really good at it.

When you quit school to spray the gunk out of tanks in a chemical plant, as Weekley had done in the early 1990s, you find that basting 3-irons for a living can have a distinct upside.

One of my favorite moments from the seven Ryder Cups I covered for Golf World occurred in the sixth singles match in 2008, when Weekley stuck his driver between his legs and playfully galloped off Valhalla’s first tee. The burst of laughter from the surrounding throng would symbolize a week of unabashed American joy – Weekley would clobber Oliver Wilson that afternoon and claim 2 ½ points in three matches to play a key role in the U.S. rout.

Alas, the horse would soon develop a little hitch in his giddy-up. Maybe he’s ready to run again.

DAN JENKINS IS an American treasure. Sometimes, you have to rummage through the chest to find a real gem, but Jenkins is one of them, and as the recipient of the 2013 Red Smith Award – without question the highest indigenous honor a sportswriter can receive – all I can say is: What the hell took so long?

Actually, that’s not all I can say. Jenkins has been on my short list of heroes for three decades, give or take an hour, a typist of unparalleled wit and uncompromised brilliance. His work has made me laugh out loud more than that of any other person, living or dead (Eddie Murphy, primarily because of his performance in “Delirious,” ranks a distant second).

At the ripe young age of 83, Jenkins still covers golf with equal parts intellect and attitude, swerving through the happy talk and B.S. like a Manhattan cabbie in 5 p.m. traffic. He has combined humor and candor like no other in my industry, which is why his personal inscription on my copy of “Slim and None” makes the novel one of my most cherished possessions.

Jenkins’ uncluttered style has always worked particularly well in long form. “Dead Solid Perfect” and “You Gotta Play Hurt” are two of the best sports book ever written, but I have yet to find a Jenkins offering I could put down easily. If you’re a serious golf fan over the age of 45, you know exactly what I mean. And if you’re a young golf nut, you need to head to amazon.com immediately.

Back when a pack of Marlboro Lights helped me get through a 2,200-word British Open game story, I’d step outside the press tent to have a smoke with Jenkins, a man of whom I was truly in awe. “When I grow up, I wanna be half as good as you,” I said to him once.

“You got something funny in that cigarette?” he replied.

THE MASTERS IS now squarely on the horizon, just 3 ½ weeks away and, in my estimation, the finest sporting event known to mankind. Because I am so fond of the tournament, it holds a reserved spot in every Hawk’s Nest for the next month. We begin with a little recent history and how it might factor into the not-so-distant future.

For all the trigger-happy projectionists looking to dominate the office pool, let it be known: The last six Masters champions had not won a PGA Tour event that year, prior to arriving at Augusta National. Phil Mickelson was the last to do it – he demolished the field at the 2006 BellSouth Classic, then claimed the green jacket for a second time the following week.

In fact, of those six winless winners-to-be, only Bubba Watson (2012) came to the Masters as a “hot golfer.” He’d finished T-4 at Bay Hill two weeks earlier – two weeks after a solo second at Doral. It’s worth noting that Bubba took a three-stroke lead into the final round in Miami and quickly became unglued, then pulled himself together and almost forced a playoff with Justin Rose.

Here’s a killer stat for you: Zach Johnson, Trevor Immelman, Angel Cabrera, Mickelson and Charl Schwartzel combined for 33 pre-Masters starts in the years they won the title. How many top-10 finishes did they amass in those 33 events?


As Jenkins might tell you, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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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.