Hawk's Nest: Wie's win, Tiger's return great for golf

By John HawkinsJune 23, 2014, 4:50 pm

This comeback is already different from the others. Gone are the days when Tiger Woods expected to hit the ground winning, a point he made clear when announcing his return to action this week at Congressional.

Second sucks? Not anymore, pal. When you’re 38 years old and coming off back surgery, when you failed to post a single top-10 finish in the seven months prior to your health issues, the world doesn’t look nearly as conquerable.

“I want to play myself back into competitive shape,” is how Woods put it last Friday. A sound premise – just not something we’d ever heard from golf’s ultimate warrior. Tiger used to bend reality. Sometimes, he would break it. Now he’s learning to live with it.

The grim reality? Our game continues to struggle at the box office without Woods around to fatten the mainstream audience. Coming off the lowest television ratings at a Masters since 1993, the U.S. Open produced its worst numbers in almost two decades. It was trounced by America’s World Cup victory over Ghana, which drew more than twice as many viewers – on a Monday evening.

Good thing Tiger didn’t decide to play soccer.

His mere presence has always had a dramatic impact on interest levels, but with a simple little notification on Facebook this past Friday, Woods altered the complexion of the season. Michelle Wie wins the U.S. Women’s Open two days later, and a week that began with a rotten lemon ended with a basket of fresh fruit.

Pro golf needs its needle-movers to perform. There are too many meaningless tournaments for the game to prosper when the big ones aren’t top-of-the-hour news. Woods may not be healthy enough to win right away. Is our game healthy enough to thrive without him?

IT WAS HOW she won, not necessarily what she won, that I found so impressive. The hybrid club from the fairway bunker on the par-4 16th was as silly as it gets, but Wie never lost her composure as a search party frantically combed the fescue. Her ball would be found, an unplayable lie would be taken – and Wie would be forced to hole one of those 5-footers that have haunted her for years – just to save bogey.

The 25-footer for birdie on the 17th, meanwhile, was a spectacular surprise, a seal-the-deal statement from a young lady whose career has been full of close calls and untimely falls. Women’s golf needed something that would alter its competitive landscape. Wie needed to do something that would reaffirm her importance to women’s golf.

Mission accomplished. Mission accomplished.

Even under the most intense competitive duress, the 24-year-old looked like a totally different person than the one I covered in the early- and mid-2000s. Having written for years that Wie needed to love the game before the game loved her back, she has done just that. Her emotional commitment is now obvious, perhaps best displayed during her post-round interview Saturday evening with NBC’s Mark Rolfing.

Her first major title came long overdue, and while I laugh at those who think “the floodgates will open” after Woods wins his next major, I wouldn’t be the least bit shocked if Wie picks up two more majors in the next 12 months.

She used to bend reality, too, but mostly, she just ran from it. Now it looks like her best friend.

IF SPECULATION THAT Tiger had originally planned to return at the British Open was correct, that means he’s ahead of schedule physically. Or that he’s excited about playing again. Or both. All of which would amount to good news for something other than commercial purposes, although you’d expect a 38-year-old man coming off back surgery to feel giddy about being pain-free.

Two of my colleagues made excellent points regarding Woods over the weekend – one on the air, the other in a phone conversation. My editor, Jay Coffin, pointed out that if Woods spent much of the past six weeks relegated to chipping and putting, he might be exceptionally sharp on and around the greens.

As regular readers of this column might attest, I attribute Red Shirt’s inability to win majors in recent years to poor putting – a diminished short game in general caused by his growing infatuation with swing mechanics, which monopolized his practice time. In short, Woods became a range rat, obsessed with form over results.

Ten or 12 years ago, it wasn’t unusual for him to spend two hours on the practice green before the start of a tournament. By the mid-2000s, however, Tiger began behaving like a man imprisoned by perfection. In that sense, swing coach Hank Haney became the perfect accompaniment – a “method” instructor with unyielding patience and an uncanny eye for detail.

Which takes us to comments made Friday by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee once news of Woods’ return broke. “Having a long golf swing is the secret to longevity,” Chamblee said. “What I saw [earlier this year with Tiger] was a shorter backswing, and the problems of a shorter backswing accumulate all the way through.

“You have less time to transfer your weight. You have less time to make up for problems. You have less time to build power.”

In recent years, Woods has said on numerous occasions that changes in his body have made it impossible for him to swing the way he did as a 22-year-old. He was obviously much skinnier and more flexible back then, and though I enjoy Chamblee’s opinions and consider him the game’s best on-air swing analyst, I don’t think the shorter swing had anything to do with his back.

The man needs to stop training with heavy weights. In his first start of 2014, back in January at the Dubai Desert Classic, Tiger could barely get the club to parallel. He looked like an old man compared to fellow competitor Rory McIlroy, and there was no evidence to suggest his back was giving him problems six months ago.

What matters now is that he’s healthy enough to play – and eager to get back. Clearly, Woods missed the competitive element during his three months away, and I would expect him to play much better golf with his mind refreshed and enthusiasm level high.

BEST PLAYER WITHOUT a major title. It’s one of those good-news, bad-news designations, highly subjective as a topic of conversation and virtually impossible to agree upon. With that in mind, I set out to identify an official BPWM by polling a bunch of my friends at GolfChannel.com, a couple of opinionated tour pros and a swing coach or two.

The winner, so to speak? Well, it’s rather fitting that the guy finished T-2 at the Travelers Championship. I asked everyone to list their top five in order, then assigned 10 points for first, 8 for second, etc. Here are the results:

1. Sergio Garcia 76

2. Lee Westwood 74

3. Dustin Johnson 46

4. Henrik Stenson 36

5. Matt Kuchar and Steve Stricker 28

Others who received votes but didn’t come close to making the cut: Luke Donald, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.

Obviously, this was a very tight battle that could easily have gone to extra holes. Garcia received four first-place votes but was left off one ballot altogether; Westwood had three 10-pointers but failed to register with two voters, which ultimately cost him the crown.

Frankly, I was surprised Kuchar didn’t fare better, seeing how he has won a Players Championship, a WGC and a FedEx Cup playoff tilt – and seems to be on the leaderboard every week. Donald, meanwhile, made just three ballots and earned 12 points.

Hey, at least Sergio finally beat a decent field. The T-2 in Hartford was his best finish since his last victory, the 2012 Wyndham Championship, which remains his only W on the PGA Tour since the 2008 Players. If you find it somewhat odd that a player could go that long without even factoring at a big event – and still earn the title of BPWM, you’re probably not alone.

He was my top choice, however, mainly because Garcia has always been held to a much higher standard than everyone else. As the first and most heralded of the post-Woods phenoms, he was supposed to win five or six majors, and for a while there in the early 2000s, he was a lock to win two or three.

No other BPWM candidate was chained to such exorbitant expectations.

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.