Our Phil of Stories Here Leads Back to Mickelson
Pretty cool indeed. And pretty cool that this wonderful slice of golf heaven can withstand changes but still off the same appeal to players and patrons alike.
Not that anyone should condone such activity, but the very fact that a handful of folks have already been arrested for scalping tickets and stolen tournament badges is proof enough that this year is big. As in really BIG.
Tiger goes for his third green jacket, and by the way, if he does win he gets to choose who will put the new coat on him. Usually that duty is reserved for the defending champion, but considering that person is also Tiger Woods, he can either do it himself, or handpick someone else.
Frankly, there are so many stories to tell already. Things like reigning United States Amateur Champion Bubba Dickerson's decision not to spend a full week in the famed 'Crow's Nest', instead choosing to spend a few nights with his fiance. When non-amateur Jerry Kelly, who won this year's Sony Open in Hawaii, was asked about taking his place, he said, 'I don't think the other guys would like it too much. I snore pretty loud. They'd be throwing stuff at me.' Missed opportunity, I'd say!
On Wednesday Nick Price and Mark Calcavecchia fired 9-hole rounds of 22 to force a playoff at the Par-3 Contest. Price won it on the second playoff hole, stealing the top crystal in an event that saw a record five aces, including two in a row by Japan's Toshi Izawa. It was great.
But that aside, and with hopes that the raining weather doesn't become more than just a passing fad, the real buzz this week has been about two things really. Course changes for one, where the '19th hole' might include a lot of chat about the lengthened 18th hole. And Phil Mickelson for another.
He's been third here before but strives to be first. Let me make one thing clear. I'm no person to judge his style of play. I can barely hold on to a lead in a $5 nassau, let alone a two-shot lead in a PGA Tour event. What I can judge is his sincerity. And based on each and every one of the conversations I've had with him over the past eight years, I feel like he's doing everything he can to be accommodating. And that's not always easy when the tough gets going at major championships.
Phil has a handle on the game inside the ropes, and perhaps more importantly the game outside the ropes, where he knows that putting his words in print or his face in front of the cameras is not only good for the game, but good for his own career. Publicity is rarely a bad thing in sports.
But while Mickelson's 20 wins are truly awesome, unfortunately, he's being likened to athletes like Barry Bonds, Dan Marino or Charles Barkley. Each was or is as gifted as they come. They've given everything to their sport and given us every thrill possible - without winning the ultimate prize. Mickelson says he's not bitter about the recent backlash over his comments about 'doing it my way.' And he says he truly believes he will break through soon. Sundays are the key he says.
But as I see it, he has every right to harbor a few grudges. Why must we care so much about how a professional chooses to do his job? Especially when we are not his boss. If he says he can't sleep at night and won't until he gets a major, then it's worth noting. But until then, lets talk about him as the World's No. 2 player, who's doing his darndest to become No. 1.
Tour professionals are independent contractors. And with the exception perhaps of sponsors or high-paying manufacturers, they really need not play for anyone but themselves.
So I say do Phil Mickelson a favor this week. While he's not out trumpeting for our support, root for him if you like, but don't root against him. Appreciate him as the game's best-ever left-hander. And realize that he cares about the game just as much as he cares if he wins himself a major. If it doesn't work out, then so be it. But don't rip him for trying the best way he knows how.
I heard a good line the other day. 'Don't try to be better than someone else. Just be the best you can possibly be,' they said. Pretty good thought. And while most would agree that Mickelson would love to unseat Tiger Woods as the game's No. 1 ranked player, I think what Phil honestly wants more than anything right now is simply to reach the next level of his ultimate potential.
And that just happens to be winning a green jacket this week at Augusta National.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
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.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
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.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
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.