Bunker Shots Hail to the Chiefs

By Randall MellOctober 6, 2009, 7:17 pm

With the Presidents Cup in strong focus, we set the week’s storylines with American presidents guiding the way.

Norman, Couples lead parade of stars

“We grow great by dreams. All men are dreamers.”  Woodrow Wilson

They were golf’s superstars when Tiger Woods came along.

Nick Faldo might have won more major championships in the pre-Tiger era, but Greg Norman and Fred Couples were more popular.

The Shark and Boom Boom were two of the game’s biggest draws in much of the ‘80s and ‘90s, big hitters with even bigger personas, charismatic presences with movie-star looks.

Norman and Couples step back onto golf’s center stage this week as captains of the International and American Presidents Cup teams.

The Presidents Cup may not have the Ryder Cup’s history or its passionate following, but it has stars galore. Michael Jordan will be more than a spectator at Harding Park this week. He’ll be an honorary assistant captain to Couples. Woods and Phil Mickelson will draw giant galleries.

Though Norman and Couples won’t hit a shot all week, their personalities promise to loom large in the storylines.

It’s a shame, though, that these captains won’t play Sunday singles. They can still summon magic. Norman, 54, nearly won the British Open last year. Couples, 50, tied for third at both the Northern Trust Open and Shell Houston Open this season and also tied for fifth at the Wyndham Championship.

A captains’ match might add some compelling competitive history to their relationship because it’s surprisingly lacking.

Norman and Couples were full-time players in 14 seasons together on the PGA Tour, but it’s as if they competed in parallel universes. In Norman’s 20 PGA Tour victories, Couples never finished second to him. In Couples’ 15 PGA Tour victories, Norman never finished second to him. In all of their years together, they shared a 54-hole lead just once. They were tied atop the leaderboard through three rounds of the 1991 Western Open, but neither won. Russ Cochran charged late to claim the title.

The closest they came to dueling in a PGA Tour event was the rain-shortened Memorial in 1990, when they reached the 54th and final hole tied and Couples handed Norman the title with a double bogey.

In the 67 major championships they played together, Norman and Couples never seriously contended together coming down the stretch. In all those majors, they finished in the top five the same year on two occasions. They each tied for fifth at the ’88 Masters won by Sandy Lyle. Couples tied for third at the '82 PGA Championship, four shots behind Raymond Floyd, with a Sunday 66. Norman tied for fifth five shots back.

Perhaps this Presidents Cup will mark the most serious collision of their parallel universes.

Norman’s bid for re-election

“Believe you can and you’re halfway there.” Teddy Roosevelt

Norman never saw the Presidents Cup as a two-year investment of himself.

He saw it as a four-year commitment. The Shark’s always had his eye on also being the captain when the Presidents Cup is staged at Royal Melbourne in his native Australia in two years, but the PGA Tour has yet to announce those assignments.

“That was part of my discussions with Tim Finchem when he asked me initially to be captain at Harding Park,” Norman told Mark Wood, Tim Rosaforte and yours truly during a Golf World On-Air radio interview earlier this year. “I said, `Tim, quite honestly, if I was ever going to be captain, I was hoping to be captain in my home country of Australia in 2011. Let’s just face reality. If I had a choice, I would rather stand down for the Harding Park Presidents Cup and be available for the 2011 Presidents Cup. We talked about it, and we had very good conversations about it. There weren’t any guarantees, but at the same time 2009 has a good chance of leading into 2011.”

You get the feeling it will be an unpleasant shock for Norman if he isn’t designated to stay on as captain at Royal Melbourne.

A celebrated return to golf is at hand

“Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Abraham Lincoln

As far as all the stars on display this week, count Phil Mickelson’s wife among them.

Amy Mickelson’s arrival might be the most celebrated.

Amy is expected to make her first appearance at a PGA Tour event since it was announced five months ago that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tour wives enjoy elevated status at the Presidents Cup and Ryder Cup. They’re allowed inside the ropes and are frequently shown on camera rooting or fretting. Amy’s sure to find the camera’s focus often if she does make an appearance.

Amy’s return is good timing. October is breast cancer awareness month.

The heart is a lonely hunter

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence . . . The slogan ‘press on’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

While Amy’s arrival promises to be uplifting, Norman’s arrival without his wife of 15 months, tennis great Chris Evert, comes with a sad undertow.

With the couple announcing their separation last week, Norman will be without the woman he credited with inspiring his run at winning the British Open last year. It’s only human nature that his players, PGA Tour officials, media and fans will be watching to see how the split affects the captain's spirits. If Norman were actually hitting shots this week, matters of the heart might really matter in the outcome, but he’s not.

Dancing with a Tiger

“Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.”  Thomas Jefferson

Remember when captains couldn’t find a good match as partner to Woods in team events?

It wasn’t that long ago, tour pros appeared lost alongside Woods, consistently failing to deliver their best when paired with him in the Ryder or Presidents cups.

Now Americans are practically jostling in line for the chance to play with him.

Jim Furyk lobbied for the pairing when he played with Couples at the PGA Championship in August. Steve Stricker and Woods talked about how they wanted to pair up this week while they played the Deutsche Bank Championship in September. Sean O’Hair left the Tour Championship wanting to team with Woods, and then there’s Anthony Kim, who has made no secret of his desire to see what he and Woods can accomplish together.

It’s a nice problem for Couples, who was the very first partner to Woods in a Presidents Cup. Couples and Woods teamed to rout Ernie Els and Vijay Singh 5 and 4 in the ’98 matches. Woods, however, went 1-3 with teammates that year, the start of his inexplicably poor start in partners golf. Woods was cumulatively 10-17-2 with partners in his first three Presidents Cups and first four Ryder Cups, but he turned his fortunes around with Furyk at the ’05 Presidents Cup. The Woods-Furyk team combined to go 2-0-1 that year. They’re 5-3-1 as foursomes and four-ball partners in international team competition.

Will Tiger get a rematch?

“A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties.”  Harry S. Truman

Y.E. Yang said he didn’t want a rematch after he defeated Woods to win the PGA Championship in August.

But he may have no choice this week.

Unlike the Ryder Cup, Presidents Cup matchups aren’t blind luck. Captains can arrange matchups. Instead of a blind submission of their lineups, the captains get together with one submitting a team, or singles player’s name, and the other allowed to counter with whomever he sees as the best counter punch. The captains take turns doing that.

Fate brought Yang together in their Hazeltine duel in Augusta. Something more contrived appears in order this week.

Unwanted golf vacations ahead

“In the time of darkest defeat, victory may be the nearest.” William McKinley

Angela Stanford won’t get to defend her title at the Bell Micro LPGA Classic on the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Mobile, Ala., this week.

The Bell Micro was postponed this year and moved to next spring. The LPGA is off for the next three weeks with play scheduled to resume Oct. 30-Nov. 1 in South Korea (Hana Bank-Kolon Championship), move to Japan Nov. 6-8 (Mizuno Classic) and then hop to Mexico Nov. 12-15 (Lorena Ochoa Invitational) before returning to the United States for the season-ending LPGA Tour Championship in Houston Nov. 19-22. 

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes