Hawk's Nest: Woods, Stricker too friendly in competition

By John HawkinsMarch 11, 2013, 1:00 pm

Spring forward, fall back. It’s a splendid premise with far-reaching implications to many golfers, but with all the respect I can muster for George Vernon Hudson, the man who conceived of daylight saving time more than a century ago, I do have a couple of questions.

Couldn’t we use that extra hour of sunshine in the dead of winter, when it gets dark at like 4:30 in the afternoon?

Nothing beats those summer evenings when you can make double-bogeys until 9 p.m., but Hudson was from New Zealand, where a Kiwi summer is actually our winter. Did my man GVH get it all backwards?

Hey, no biggie. You know it’s a cool world when all you have to do is spin your clock ahead one hour – and an eight-month surplus of brightness immediately follows. Not that I’m afraid of the dark or anything. What you don’t see can’t hurt you, and there are days when my bunker play might be described as “lights out” in a very negative sense, but that big yellow ball in the sky is my friend.

I want him around for as long as he will stay. An empty golf course in the early evening translates into a spiritual experience one cannot define with mere words, so I won’t try. I do have one more question, however. Hudson was an astronomer who collected bugs in his spare time. Couldn’t he have just gathered a jar full of fireflies and called it a day?

AS MUCH AS I like and respect Steve Stricker, a guy I’ve had an excellent working relationship with since the mid-1990s, I’m not a big fan of one premier player helping another with something like a putting stroke, especially on-site during tournament week. Maybe Tiger Woods would have holed a bunch of putts at Doral without Stricker’s assistance, seeing how he’d won there three previous times.

Still, it seems like a pretty obvious conflict of interest to me. Having spent significant time on PGA Tour practice ranges and putting greens over the years, I’m fully aware that players help each other all the time. And I’ll admit that if some dude with 14 major titles walked up and asked me for help, I’d probably drop what I was doing.

So I suppose I’m contradicting myself, which makes this far more of a contemplation than a rant. And as soon as I finished typing that last sentence, Stricker addressed the issue in his post-round interview: “Sometimes, you kind of kick yourself,” he said jokingly before adding, “It’s the nature of the game. Everybody helps one another – the older players did it with me. You’re friends out here even though you’re competing against each other.”

Understood, but that doesn’t quell my wondering. Is it noble? Of course. Is it healthy in terms of its effect on the game’s competitive disposition? You tell me – I’m curious as to what readers think. Is pro golf too brotherly for its own good? By no means am I suggesting we pour sugar in the gas tanks of courtesy cars or sabotage a guy’s chances.

Golf’s habits, traditions and code of conduct all are steeped in the highest of honor – far more so than any other sport – but at the end of the week, you’re still playing to win the game. How high is too high? In final analysis, Woods is too driven not to ask for help, and Stricker is too nice a guy not to oblige. Perhaps that makes them the perfect team, so to speak.

GRAEME MCDOWELL IS growing on me, although not in the literal sense. In a league topped by bigger guys with better careers and smoother swings, G-Mac often hangs tough with T-Woo, P-Mick and S-Strick, which isn’t so much a compelling observation as it is an indictment of shortening a man’s handle and calling it a nickname.

As a writer who tries to make a living by being honest, even when it translates to others as sheer stupidity, I thought McDowell’s victory at the 2010 U.S. Open was much more of a loss by several others, including Woods and Mickelson. If nobody handed that major to McDowell, nobody put up much of a fight. And though I saw him make a bushel of putts at the Ryder Cup that fall, it happened in a team-match event in an individual-stroke world.

I haven’t seen the man win since, but McDowell keeps showing up on the game’s most important leaderboards. His tenacity is quite admirable, his savvy at finding the hole better than most. Is his inability to finish predicated by one of the speediest swings in golf – a hyper-kinetic lash that might avail itself to tempo issues under intense pressure?

When you look back on the modern era’s top performers, very few looked like they were in a hurry to the ball. Nick Price was a fast swinger – and an awesome ball-striker – but his rise to No. 1 came about during a two- or three-year stretch when his putting reached unprecedented levels of efficiency. Jose Maria Olazabal swung the club at an accelerated pace and always had an enviable short game, but his inconsistency on his way to the green prevented him from winning more often.

Tempo adjustment is an extremely tricky business, regardless of how well you play, and McDowell has accomplished more than many tour pros with the swing he has. You dance with whom you brought, or so they say, but some dances are bigger than others, and where I came from, you couldn’t get anywhere until it was time for the slow dance.

I’m sure there’s a double mixed metaphor in there somewhere.

FOR ALL THE crying I’ve done about slow play this winter, Doral’s star-studded leaderboard got to the scoring trailer about 10 minutes before the end of NBC’s allotted TV window. My point? A majority of the game’s very best players don’t horse around. They generally don’t engage in 2 ½-minute conversations with their caddie when it’s time to hit a shot.

They are decisive alpha males with a lifetime full of success and a finger glued to the focus button. Thus, they do what they can not to over-complicate things. Greatness trusts instinct. Instinct breeds emotional freedom. Emotional freedom may not lead you straight to the trophy ceremony, but it points you in the right direction.

At the 2005 Masters, which evolved into a thrilling, flaw-filled duel between Woods and Chris DiMarco, I could have sworn Tiger took his sweet time doing everything on Sunday. Woods had wiped out a four-hole deficit during the completion of the third round that morning, leaving the two men paired together that afternoon, and certainly, Tiger was aware of DiMarco’s jumpy, almost impatient disposition.

So the Dude in the Red Shirt was in no rush to claim his fourth green jacket – even his ball took forever to tumble into the hole at the 16th, punctuating one of the greatest chips in golf history. Did Tiger’s slowdown tactics, however intentional, amount to dirty pool, or was it simply more strategic genius from an ultra-decorated champion?

All I know is, if Stricker showed Woods how to make putts, shouldn't Woods show Stricker how to win a major?

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

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Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.