A Walk Down the Path of Those Young Years
Working with the juniors always takes me back to when I first started to play this game. I remember before I ever played how I watched the 1971 Masters on television - the way it looked, and everything was so green and beautiful. I was into all kinds of sports that a young teenage boy can play ' cycling, swimming, all those things ' but I really hadnt thought much about golf until then.
I got the bug just watching television. The very next day I was hitting balls on the school's playing field. It was the Easter holiday, and Ive been in love with the game ever since.
I would make the schoolyard my practice area at first. I used to hit balls into the long-jump pit. That was my target. I would hit balls towards that area until I could get them in their most of the time.
A neighbor lent me a 7- and 8-iron at first, and then my parents bought me a half-set of clubs ' come to think of it, they were called St. Andrews, which I guess is quite funny. It was just a cheap set, but I used them over and over when I was first learning. I played my first round of golf on my 14th birthday ' July 18, 1971.
Anyway, the day after the Masters in 71, I went down to the Welwyn Garden City Golf Club ' my hometown outside of London ' and booked lessons. My first teacher was an assistant pro, Chris Arnold, who gave me six lessons. He was a big help, obviously, he really got me started. Then he passed me along to Ian Connally, who was the head pro there. I worked with him, oh, for about 10 years or so.
I realize I was a relatively late starter. Most kids who make it as a professional start younger, at 10 or so. But I got good rather quickly. My first handicap card showed I was playing to about a 12. It was my own sporting ability, I guess, but I started hitting a lot of balls straightaway. I practiced for three months before I ever went out on a golf course, I think that was one thing that was really important.
Within a year, I was really hooked on it. My mother took me all over the country to tournaments ' my father, who was an accountant, had to work. Eventually I became old enough to drive myself, but until then, me and mum drove the countryside.
I left school at 16, in the summer of 73. Basically, I lived on the practice ground for the next two years. And 1975 was my big amateur year, when I started winning some really big tournaments at the age of 18. Within four years of first picking up a club, I won the British Amateur. Within six years, I was a professional and playing for Great Britain in the '77 Ryder Cup.
I must have played with Sandy Lyle the first time at the 74 English Boys tournament. He was from Shrewsbury in the west of England and we had some memorable matches when we were young. He played for England then, even though he is of Scottish descent ' I think he was Englands captain, as a matter of fact. We were just about the best English boys around, and I guess some of those matches are still talked about today.
By 75, the next year, I played off a 3 handicap. I won the British Amateur, the Berkshire Trophy, the British Youths, English Champion of Champions, and a big tournament in South Africa where I met Gary Player. I got to play a couple of holes with Gary, because he was the great ambassador.
Actually, though, Gary wasnt the first superstar I met. I remember earlier in 75 I tried to qualify for the (British) Open at Carnoustie ' I was 17 at the time, I think. I didnt make it. But at the British Amateur I had met the man who was to caddy for Lee Trevino at the Open. And he told me, Hey, Ill get you a round with Lee.
I said, How are you going to do that? He said, Because Im the boss!
So the deal was, if I made it, I could play a practice round with Lee. And I was really sick because I didnt make it. But I was standing on the first tee when Lee showed up for his practice round, and the caddy saw me.
He must have saw me looking really disappointed, and he said, Dont worry, you can still walk with him. So I walked around next to his bag all day.
That was fantastic. I walked with Lee for those three days, and he was really incredible. He showed me how to putt, all sorts of things. In those days, you could walk next to the player. And Lee really provided an insight into what golf at this level was all about.
When I turned pro the next year, in 1976, there really wasnt any player I could look up to or help me out with those little things that every pro needs to know ' or at least I didnt know how to go about asking. I basically did my own thing and just learned as I went along.
That basically is what Im trying to do with these kids now. Im passing on to them what I have learned for the last 25 years or so, all my knowledge. All Im telling them is to bring their talent and dedication, and within my team we know everything about how to build a champion golfer.
I try to give them everything ' I talked to them the other day about, You will probably find something you like in a golf shot that will fit you. And that will probably stay with you your whole career.
Ive played with the same shot for 20 years now. Once you find something thats a fit with your own body tempo, its very difficult to change. It becomes natural, and its something that you can rely on when the pressure gets really immense and you need something to bail you out.
I really hope the youngsters can get something out of this. As I said, I really didnt have anyone inside the game to guide me through the pitfalls. Maybe this program will make the journey through to the top a little easier. The steps along the way are certainly exciting.
What's in the bag: RSM Classic winner Cook
PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook earned his first Tour title at the RSM Classic. Take a look inside his bag.
Driver: Ping G400 (8.5 degrees adjusted to 9.2), with Fujikura Speeder Evolution 661X shaft
Fairway wood: Ping G400 (13 degrees), with Fujikura Motore VC 7.0 shaft
Hybrids: Ping G400 (19, 22 degrees), with Matrix Altus Red X shafts
Irons: Ping S55 (5-PW), with KBS Tour S shafts
Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (50, 56, 60) with True Temper Dynamic Gold S400 shafts
Putter: Ping Sigma G Tyne
Ball: Titleist Pro V1
Monday Scramble: For money and love
Lexi Thompson falters, Jon Rahm impresses, Justin Rose stuns, Austin Cook breaks through and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
It’ll be a long two months for Lexi Thompson.
She’ll have plenty to think about this offseason after a strong 2017 season that could have been spectacular.
She won twice, led the LPGA in scoring average and took home the $1 million first-place prize … but she also finished second six times – none more excruciating than the careless spotting in the first major of the year and the 2-foot miss in the season finale – and dealt with the crushing off-course distraction of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.
Thompson said all the right things after the CME Group Tour Championship, that those types of short misses happen in golf, that she’s overcome adversity before.
“It didn’t stop me,” she said, “and this won’t either.”
But at 22, she has already accumulated an incredible amount of scar tissue, especially for a player with world-beater talent.
What will 2018 bring? For Lexi’s sake, hopefully it’s more wins, not heartbreak.
1. The Thompson miss was plenty awkward. So was the end to the LPGA season.
In a fitting result for a year in which no dominant player emerged, So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the Player of the Year award, after both players finished with 162 points. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1966.
Can’t there be some way to break the tie? Low scoring average? Best finishes in the majors? A chip-off content? Rock-paper-scissors?
2. Some of the other awards ...
Vare Trophy: Thompson, who finished the year with a 69.114 average. Maybe the players this year were just really good, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher than 12 players finished with a sub-70 average, besting the previous best total of, gulp, five. Easier setups?
Money title: Park, with $2.336 in earnings.
No. 1 ranking: Shanshan Feng, though Thompson had a chance to take over the top spot. Alas, that final green …
3. Oh, and there was also the tournament winner: Ariya Jutanugarn, who capped a bizarre year with a satisfying title.
Perhaps only Thompson boasts as much talent as Jutanugarn, and yet the Thai star showed her vulnerability this year. After reaching No. 1 in the world, she struggled through a shoulder injury and then missed five cuts and withdrew from another event in a seven-start span.
Here’s hoping she learned how to deal with that spotlight, because she’s going to be challenging for the No. 1 ranking for a while.
4. Of course, we wrote that about Lydia Ko, too, and she just wrapped up her first winless season on tour since she was 15.
She had 11 top-10s, including three runners-up, but failing to earn a victory was a massive disappointment for a player who was No. 1 in the world for 85 weeks. Perhaps next year she’ll get back on track, but you never know – she changed swings, coaches, equipment and caddies. That's a lot of turnover.
5. So much for that “controversial” Rookie of the Year award.
Jon Rahm, named Europe’s top newcomer despite playing only four regular-season events, left little doubt about who was the breakout star of the year with a comeback victory at the DP World Tour Championship.
Though it wasn’t enough to claim the Race to Dubai title – he finished third – it should serve as a warning to the rest of the European Tour that the 23-year-old Rahm be the man to beat for the next, oh, decade or so.
6. Ranked fourth in the world, particularly impressive because he hasn’t yet hit the minimum divisor in the rankings, Rahm wrapped up a season in which he won in California, Ireland and Dubai.
Just imagine how good he’ll be when he’s not seeing all of these courses for the first time.
7. The biggest stunner on the final day was the play of Justin Rose, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead.
He seemed to be on cruise control, going out in 4 under, but he encountered all sorts of trouble on the back nine, making three bogeys a variety of ways – wayward drives, flared approaches into the water and missed shorties.
Not only did it cost him the DP World Tour Championship title, but it allowed Tommy Fleetwood – even with a closing 74 – to take the end-of-season Race to Dubai title.
8. Austin Cook is now a PGA Tour winner – and what a circuitous journey it has been.
After turning pro in 2014, he played the mini-tours, racking up five top-10s in nine starts on the Adams Tour. A year later, with a chance to earn his Web.com card, he finished bogey-bogey-quad-double. And then last year, Hurricane Matthew forced officials to cancel the Web.com Tour Championship. That left Cook without his card – by $425.
He made it to the big leagues this fall, after finishing 20th on the money list, and then won in just his 14th career Tour start.
“I’ve been close on the Web a couple times but haven’t been able to get the job done, and to be able to do it on the biggest stage in the world, it definitely boosts my confidence and lets me know that I can play with these guys,” he said.
9. Sam Horsfield, who in 2016 was the NCAA Freshman of the Year, routed the field at European Tour Q-School to earn his card for next year. He shot 27 under (!) during the five-round event to win by eight.
Expectations have been high for the 21-year-old ever since he received a public endorsement from Ian Poulter. His mentor chimed in again after Horsfield got his card:
I'm extremely impressed just like I was 7 years ago with this young man @hr59sam. @EuropeanTour School is a daunting week. Many congratulations to now being employed and I hope you enjoy the new job. May you have a long and successful career mate. pic.twitter.com/o8CCluTyI8— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) November 16, 2017
Another great story to come out of Q-School was Jigger Thomson, who is interesting not just because of his incredible height – he’s 6-foot-9 – but his back story, after battling leukemia as a kid.
10. A limited fall schedule hasn’t cost Brooks Koepka any of his stellar form.
The U.S. Open champion defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix, shooting 20 under par – one off his own scoring mark – and winning by a record nine shots. The margin of victory was one shot better than Tiger Woods’ romp there in 2004.
This was only Koepka’s second start since the Tour Championship (tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions).
Xander Schauffele tied for second while Hideki Matsuyama finished fifth. This is the time last year, remember, in which the Japanese star was the hottest player in the world, taking four titles in six starts, but he admitted of going up against Koepka right now: “I feel there’s a huge gap between us.”
Um, has this ever happened before?
I.K. Kim had a WILD third round at the CME Tour Championship, making only seven pars and recording everything from a 1 to a 7 en route to a ho-hum 71.
This week's award winners ...
Back Under the Knife: Davis Love III. Set to undergo replacement surgery on his left hip, Love is looking at another extended layoff, likely about four months.
Underrated Fall Performances: J.J. Spaun and Brian Harman. Spaun, who held the 54-hole lead at the Shriners, earned his first runner-up finish at the RSM, his third consecutive top-15. Harman, who won the Wells Fargo in May, had three top-8s.
Fill-In Duty: Cameron McCormick. Jordan Spieth’s swing coach will be on the bag for Spieth this week in Australia with his regular caddie, Michael Greller, at home with his wife and new baby.
Get Well Soon: Luke Donald. He withdrew from the RSM because of chest pain. He spent the night in the hospital, undergoing seven hours of tests, but was given the all-clear sign.
Well that wasn’t quite the finish to my year I had in mind!! Had some chest pain last night and into this morning & it kept getting worse. After some medical advice, I had to withdraw & was shipped off to the hospital to get my heart looked at. After 7 hours of tests all looks good with my heart thankfully A big thank you to the staff at the South East Georgia Brunswick hospital for taking good care of me. Time to put my feet up for a few weeks, recharge, regroup and get ready for a big 2018.
All the Best: Webb Simpson. Wishing the best to the Simpson family, after Webb chose to WD from Sea Island after rounds of 67-68 so he could spend time with his father, Sam, who, Simpson tweeted is “sick and living his last days.”
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Red-hot to open the season, with three consecutive top-10s, Howell missed the cut at Sea Island where he was 7-for-7 with three top-10s and a tie for 13th. Sigh.
Love to undergo hip replacement surgery
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Two days removed from arguably the most hectic week of his year, Davis Love III will undergo replacement surgery on his left hip.
Love, who hosted and played in last week’s RSM Classic, said he tried to avoid the surgery, but the pain became too much and he will undergo the procedure on Tuesday at the Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala.
“I had a hip problem the last few years, and I had a hip resurfacing trying to avoid hip surgery because I’m a chicken, but after playing [the CIMB Classic and Sanderson Farms Championship] I realized it was an uphill battle,” Love said.
Love said doctors have told him recovery from the procedure will take between three to four months, but he should be able to start work on his chipping and putting within a few weeks.
Love, who missed the cut at the RSM Classic, said earlier in the week that his goal is to become the oldest PGA Tour winner and that the only way to achieve that was by having the surgery.
“Now I’m excited that I’ve crossed that bridge,” said Love, who will turn 54 next April. “Once I get over that I can go right back to the Tour. I won after a spine fusion [2015 Wyndham Championship] and now I’d like to win with a new hip. That’s the reason I’m doing it so I can get back to golf and keep up.”
LPGA awards: Ryu, S.H. Park tie for POY
NAPLES, Fla. – In the end, the CME Group Tour Championship played out a lot like the entire 2017 season did.
Nobody dominated the game’s big season-ending awards, though Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park came close.
Thompson walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. If she had made that last 2-foot putt at the 72nd hole Sunday, she might also have walked away with the Rolex Player of the Year Award and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.
Park shared the Rolex Player of the Year Award with So Yeon Ryu. By doing so, Park joined Nancy Lopez as the only players in LPGA history to win the Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year titles in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park also won the LPGA money-winning title.
Here’s a summary of the big prizes:
Rolex Player of the Year
Ryu and Park both ended up with 162 points in the points-based competition. Park started the week five points behind Ryu but made the up the difference with the five points she won for tying for sixth.
It marks the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.
Ryu and Park join Inbee Park as the only South Koreans to win the award. Park won it in 2013.
Thompson won the award with a scoring average of 69.114. Sung Hyun Park finished second at 69.247. Park needed to finish at least nine shots ahead of Thompson at the CME Group Tour Championship to win the trophy.
There were a record 12 players with scoring averages under 70.0 this year, besting the previous record of five, set last year.
CME Globe $1 million prize
Thompson entered the week first in the CME points reset, but it played out as a two-woman race on the final day. Park needed to finish ahead of Thompson in the CME Group Tour Championship to overtake her for the big money haul. Thompson tied for second in the tournament while Park tied for sixth.
By winning the CME Group Tour Championship, Jutanugarn had a shot at the $1 million, but she needed Park to finish the tournament eighth or worse and Thompson to finish ninth or worse.
LPGA money-winning title
Park claimed the title with $2,335,883 in earnings. Ryu was second, with $1,981,593 in earnings.
The tour saw a tour-record 17 players win $1 million or more this season, two more than did so last year.
Ryu came into the week as the only player who could pass Park for the title, but Ryu needed to win to do so.
Rolex world No. 1 ranking
The top ranking was up for grabs at CME, with No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Sung Hyun Park and No. 3 So Yeon Ryu all within three hundredths of a ranking point. Even No. 4 Lexi Thompson had a chance to grab the top spot if she won, but in the end nobody could overtake Feng. Her reign will extend to a second straight week.
Rolex Rookie of the Year
Park ran away with the award with her U.S. Women’s Open and Canadian Pacific Women’s Open victories among her 11 top-10 finishes. She had the award locked up long before she arrived for the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.