An awesome experience

By Michael CollinsAugust 7, 2008, 4:00 pm
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. ' Well boys and girls, its taken some time, but I have finally got writers block! I just got to Detroit and as I am awaiting the start of the PGA Championship and I have no idea what to write. Its my first major without Tiger and my experience at this event last year was not a good one ' and he was here.
Tonight at dinner with Alex Micelli, who youve seen on GOLF CHANNEL, and the rest of the XM team I thought: Something really good is gonna come from this and Ill write about that. Well, as much fun as we had at dinner, if I wrote about what we were talking about Id probably be fired in the morning. Topics like the LPGA, the PGA TOURs pension plan, the Tour without Tiger, and Michelle Wie are all interesting topics but... the table got pretty heated and ended with us all having a toast to a good week.
But what can we expect this week? Vijay Singh won last week; Phil Mickelsons here; Kenny Perry is making an appearance; Anthony Kim finally got the baseball swing out of his system, but... the final major of the year is not sold out. Tickets are available for everyday which is weird for a major.
I never was fortunate enough to caddie at this major. Whoever I caddied for never got in the year I worked for him. Maybe thats a hint at how good a caddie I am?
I will tell you that the preparation for a major for a caddie is a lot different than for a regular Tour event. A course that youve never seen before, greens youve never read before and the feeling is a bit different on the driving range ' a little quieter, more subdued, still chatter but not quite the same.
So you wanna know what its like to caddie in a major? Awesome. When you step up on the first tee, there are a few more butterflies (yes, we caddies get em, too). That first read on the green brings some more butterflies as well, because it can set the tone for whether or not your player will call you in for more reads, and all great caddies want to be a part of the team out there.
Talking to some of my caddie buddies here this week, they tell me this course has no let up, no breaks, no breather holes. I asked a few guys what they thought the winning score was gonna be and out of 10 guys, only two said under par ' and they both said only if it rains!
Thats one of the things that makes caddying in a major so difficult, you have to be the ray of sunshine. After a stupid bogey or double you have to be able to get your player to move on, to let that hole go before you get to the next tee shot. Its not easy to do but scoreboards help, because at a major, everybody is making stupid mistakes every now and then and he who makes the least gets the trophy.
Im anxious to see which players have meltdowns so I can watch my friends try and calm down their players.
I do remember a particular meltdown that had to be fixed when I was caddying on the Nationwide Tour. I was working for Chris Couch at an event in Virginia before we made it to the big dance. We made a stupid bogey on a par 5 and now had to play a short par 4, which was reachable for Couch who was one of the longest hitters back then, but blind if you go for the green.
I hadnt been working for him very long (4 months) but we had a good relationship on and off the course; thank goodness, too. As we get to the tee, I hand him the 5-iron, just like we had done in the practice round and in Round 1. He takes a couple of practice swings and then backs off and comes over to the bag and says, Im so mad right now, I just wanna hit driver. The problem was he had been babying the driver all day and wasnt hitting it particularly well ' a dangerous combination on a short par 4 with out of bounds right.
So I said to him, Hey, 5-iron is the play and well hit wedge tight. He steps back to the ball with 5-iron in hand, but hes shaking his head like hes not happy. So I call him back to the bag, Pro... (he looks over) come here. I move the bag closer to him as he steps towards me. Gimme it, I say holding my hand out. He hands me the 5-iron. I take the head cover off the driver and hold it out. He takes it but I dont let go. I yank him towards me, look him in the eyes and say, If youre gonna hit it, (blankin) HIT IT. Ill never forget the look on his face ' eyes wide knowing I wanted him to go ahead and tear the cover off it. And man did he hit it. Over the back of the green! We got up and down for birdie.
Well, the writers block is gone. Thanks yall! Something special is going to happen this week, a story no one knows about yet. I can feel it.
Michael Collins has been a stand-up comedian for 15 years and has more than seven years experience as a professional caddie. He currently covers the PGA TOUR as a correspondent with XM Satellite Radio and takes his turn on The Turn Mondays on GOLF CHANNEL. He also has his own Web site,
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    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.