Doubting Thomas

By Mercer BaggsMarch 5, 2003, 5:00 pm
To go or not to go? That was the question many of golfs worldly elite pondered last week in relation to the Dubai Desert Classic.
For one man, however, there was never a debate. Never a weighing of safety against monetary compensation.
Thomas Bjorn feels at home in the United Arab Emirates. And well he should ' he owns a house in the area.
'I have family thats lived here for 25 years. This is one of the safest places on the whole planet to be, he said. I would not have a problem traveling here at any time.
Dubai is located in the Arabian Peninsula, separated from Iraq by 900 miles of the Persian Gulf.
Needless to say, there were others who didnt share in Bjorns comfort in this tenuous time.
Tiger Woods, Colin Montgomerie and Nick Faldo were among the big names to opt out of the event.
We always feel a little better when we stay close to home and thats just what hes going through at the moment. I can understand why hes not here, Bjorn said of Woods.
But while the 32-year-old Dane could understand the Americans absence ' despite the fact that he would have reportedly received in excess of $2 million to show ' he was a bit baffled by Montgomeries withdrawal.
He felt that the best way right now is to play his golf in America, Bjorn said of Montgomerie, who is playing in the PGA Tours Ford Championship this week. I always say when you commit yourself to a golf tournament, you should not commit yourself and then pull out just before.
Those not on hand are inconsequential to Bjorn. He has plenty to take on in Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Darren Clarke, Phillip Price, Mark OMeara and Paul Lawrie.
Els is the defending champion; a claim he will stake several times over next season, as he has already won four times in six worldwide starts in 2003.
Ive never seen anybody hit the ball that far and that straight, so hes very difficult to go up against at the moment, Bjorn said of Els. Hes very confident.
Confident is not the proper adjective to describe Bjorn at the moment. Hopeful, perhaps. Maybe even optimistic. But not confident. Not just yet.
Im trying to keep my head up, and its difficult because my game is not where it should be at the moment, admitted Bjorn, who has seven career European Tour victories. I dont feel Im playing the game at the level I should be playing at. I think especially my world ranking position at the moment shows that.
Fifty-four. Thats the ranking number that displeases Bjorn. He was 14th in the world two years ago, just after his remarkably impressive victory in the 2001 Dubai Desert Classic.
That year, he played all 72 holes alongside Tiger Woods, and beat him by two shots.
Hes only won once since then, though. And when the winning well started to dry up, it also sapped his desire to compete.
Bjorn said his expectations were so high that the slightest bump in the road to victory would create a massive detour.
I played a golf tournament in Australia and after three holes it was just a question of getting the next 33 holes over so I could go home, he said. There was just no golf left in me.
Bjorns outlook is refreshed in 2003, as are several items in his professional life. In addition to a caddie switch, hes going through some major changes' in both his swing and his attitude.
Part of the adjustment is not being too hard on himself. Bjorn said hes trying to realize that the swing overhaul -- with the assistance of long-time coach Pete Cowan -- is not a quick fix, and that patience is the key to his on-course sanity.
He likened his new mental approach to a combination between Tiger Woods and Lee Westwood when he was at his best.
One of those helping him accomplish that is Jos Vanstiphout, the Swedish psychologist who has gained notoriety for his work with Ernie Els and Retief Goosen.
Hes working with some of the greatest players in the world who are having the greatest success at the moment. Hes shown that it works, said Bjorn, who added he worked with Vanstiphout over a six-month period a few years ago.
Golf is a game of confidence, and if you see big targets youre going to hit the ball all over the place, and if you see small targets you will hit them. Were just working on some things that are going to make me get back to focusing out there on the golf course.
Stay relaxed. Narrow your focus. Relieve the pressure. Its worked for the South Africans; Bjorn believes it will work for him, too.
Its difficult to keep your head up all the time, he said. I have a lot of good people around me at the moment, to give me a kick sometimes. So well just keep working and Ill be back at my very best shortly.
Related Links
  • Statistical Preview of the Dubai Desert Classic
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    McCoy earns medalist honors at 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 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 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 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.