Natalie and Brad Pitt

By Michael FechterJune 20, 2008, 4:00 pm
Editor's note: Michael Fechter, orphan worker and humorist, has the best job in golf: he's paid to be the Ambassador of Fun for golf courses across America. His 'job' is to make the courses he represents across America more interesting, unique and fun. Enjoy his humorous series on getting back into the game as he struggles to get his game into the shape it was nearly 30 years ago when he won his only personal junior 'major,' the Al Esposito, on America's easiest muni with rounds of 71-71-75.
There's something to be said about learning from the best. So, when Annika Sorenstam came to Charleston, S.C. to host the Ginn Tribute, I knew I had found my new swing coach.
OK, just to make this clear: I'm not going through some ugly divorce from Brian Ferguson, my current (albeit reluctant) swing coach. It's just that after weeks of Brian's brutal honesty, I felt I needed the gentle, nurturing words of a female swing coach.
I figured that if I could get Annika to diagnose just one swing ' to give, at most, a 45-second lesson, I'd be well on my way back to my Junior golf championship form.
So, armed with a stack of Ambassador of Fun business cards courtesy of my official job title at Greenway Golf, I headed over to the Ginn Tribute to pick up my media pass. Being a columnist for does have its benefits.
Unfortunately, those benefits don't include access to the driving range according to LPGA officials. And, they certainly don't include access to Annika. If this were a movie, I would have followed Annika around the tournament for days on end until she finally relented and there, on an airport runway, she would have critiqued my one swing, whispering the word Tempo into my ear before boarding her private plane and jetting off to the next tournament.
The thing is, movies are not like real life and I knew that if I in any way bothered Ms. Sorenstam, I would be looking at a lifetime of cease and desist letters and restraining orders from highly-placed officials of the LPGA. Oh, and they'd probably revoke my press pass. And I'd be out of a job.
And so, armed with the knowledge that I would have to continue to endure the abuses of my current swing coach, I tried to come up with some other way to serve my honorable duties as a member The Fourth Estate.

Without doubt, I am cocky at the computer keyboard, however, in person I am can be a bit shy ' especially when faced with tasks for which I have had no training. Subsequently, after half an hour of investigative reporting, all I had discovered was that Miles Kirkpatrick, the caddie for first year player Anna Grzebien, would like the superpower to 'read minds' and would use it most often 'with women, because who knows what they're thinking?' Mel Gibson toyed with this superpower once, and all that came of it was a second-rate movie and later a bunch of Mel crazy talk on his way to the drunk tank. I can't say as I would recommend such powers.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to move on from caddies and query actual golfers. I spoke briefly with several Korean, Japanese and Swedish players, all of whom said many things witty and wise. However, they spoke in Korean, Japanese and Swede-dish and I understood none of it. Still, I was gaining confidence.
And then, in an effort to avoid some drooling frat boy who claimed to be writing for Maxim Magazine, Natalie Gulbis walked briskly from the practice green right toward me, a bumbling, middle aged reporter still desperately trying to translate Korean.
'Excuse me, Natalie, I said, trying to hide the trepidation I feel when being confronted by a beautiful woman and being way over my head in a new career. I write comedy for the Golf Channel. Could I ask you a few questions?'
'Comedy?' Natalie asked, a bit perplexed because Golf Channel is as well known for comedy as Oscar Meyer is for chocolate.
'I'm too stupid to be a real reporter, I assured her, so I call it comedy.' Natalie sort of laughed, which I took as my signal to investigate away!
I started off with the questions I had honed on caddies and the international players. Apparently, Ms. Gulbis would like the superpower to fly, which I found interesting for a girl that likely has her own private plane.
And, her dream date would be with??? Brad Pitt, said Ms. Gulbis.
Pretty obvious choice for one of America's most beautiful women...going with America's most beautiful man. Couldn't Natalie have chosen Carrot Top. Or me.
Having watched precisely two Barbara Walters Special Interviews in my life, I knew the importance of the follow-up question. 'Do you want Angelina to come along on the date?' Natalie looked at me as if I truly am America's biggest idiot and said No way!! Probing deeper, I asked 'Do you want their kids there?' I envisioned a date with Brad Pitt and Natalie and a gaggle of Bradgelina kids at the local McDonaldland playground.
Natalie obviously had something different in mind. 'No wife. No kids. Just me and Brad.'
OK, I got it. Natalie Gulbis wants Brad Pitt all to herself.
When I asked Natalie if she could change anything about herself, she responded, 'I'd like to be 6 feet tall. Because if I was 6 feet tall, I could hit it further and be leaner.' It makes me wonder if she'd give up the endorsements and constant fawning over by men from 9-90 to gain an extra 20 yards off the tee? I believe she might.
As to whether Miss Gulbis would prefer to have $5 million in the bank or win an LPGA major and have no money, I have the answer. Natalie Gulbis chose the major. The U.S. Open being her preference. I asked Natalie if she would want to win by 1 or 15 shots? and she said she didn't care as long as she gets the victory.
Personally, I'd like to win the U.S. Open by 16... and intentionally hit four balls OB on 18 just for fun. I can say that because, unlike Natalie, my little fantasy of winning the U.S. Open has no basis in reality. Natalie also has a much better chance of dating Brad Pitt than I do. For so many reasons.
When I asked Natalie if she would rather win the Ginn Tribute Hosted by Annika, or come in second in the men's Masters, she clearly wanted to win the Ginn. 'I have no interest in playing with the men,' she added. This is interesting, because I'm guessing Natalie Gulbis would be the overwhelming choice of men over say 36 holes in the heat with Bob May.
As to the most important question of whether Miss Gulbis could possibly be attracted to an older man who works for Orphans and has no money, I didn't even bother to ask. First, I know the answer. Natalie had already exhibited a very strong preference for that Brad Pitt fellow. And secondly, I'm a lousy investigative reporter.
So what if I shot a triple bogey in my attempt to get the 45-second lesson form Annika; I scooped that Maxim reporter guy for a double eagle with my Natalie Gulbis interview. As Ambassador of Fun, it's a very good start to both the tournament week and my new reporting career
Tom Werner contributed to this column.
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    After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

    By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

    I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

    Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

    The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

    On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

    After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

    Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

    The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

    On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

    The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

    Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

    That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

    On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

    The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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    Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

    LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

    “I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

    By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

    Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

    “I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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    Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

    By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

    LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

    It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

    Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

    He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

    “I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

    What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

    In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

    For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

    From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

    There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

    “It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

    A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

    That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

    Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

    “[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

    It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

    Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

    “He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

    It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

    That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

    “I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

    Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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    Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

    By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

    LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

    Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

    Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

    Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

    Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

    “I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

    Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

    Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

    “For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”