Exceeded Expectations

By Randall MellDecember 9, 2010, 4:59 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Is there any more fearsome figure in golf right now than Graeme McDowell over a putt that really matters?

Even his colleagues are marveling at how McDowell has turned his flat stick into a magic wand.

Dustin Johnson sought out McDowell’s Odyssey White Hot #7 Wednesday at the Shark Shootout in hopes that by touching it he would absorb some of the enchantment it possesses.

“Trying to get some of his mojo,” Johnson said.

McDowell’s making putts this season like the second coming of Bobby Locke. He beat Tiger Woods with that 20-footer for birdie on the final hole of regulation Sunday at the Chevron World Challenge and then with another 20-footer for birdie on the first hole of their playoff. He beat Hunter Mahan with a dramatic 20-foot birdie putt to help Europe win the Ryder Cup in October. And though no single putt distinguished McDowell’s U.S. Open victory at Pebble Beach last June, he won his first major championship holing nerve-racking par putts throughout his Sunday finish.

“He’s putting probably better than anybody else in the world right now,” Ian Poulter said.

McDowell, a native of Northern Ireland, says he has turned himself into a better putter, because he wasn’t born with the gift. In fact, when he arrived to play at the University of Alabama-Birmingham more than a decade ago, putting wasn’t a strength.

“I used to give my coach a heart attack, because I wasn’t a very good fast-greens putter,” McDowell said. “I guess that comes growing up on slow links greens in Ireland.”

While Pete Cowen is McDowell’s swing coach, McDowell says his best development as a putter came with the help of Clive Tucker, who guided England’s David Howell into the top 10 in the world rankings back in 2006.

“David was probably the best putter in the world at the time,” McDowell said.

Tucker helped improve McDowell’s technique.

“I’ve always been a sort of streaky good putter,” McDowell said. “But I’ve worked very hard on it the last three or four years. I’ve become more mechanically correct as far as my setup. I used to be more of a feel putter. I would just kind of stand to the ball how I felt, but, with hard work, I’ve gotten better and better and better. I’ve become more consistent.”

McDowell might be making highlights and headlines holing those clutch 20-foot birdie putts, but he believes his strength is his consistent ability to make 6- and 8-footers.

“I’m very good holing out,” said McDowell, who describes his putting stroke as inside to open. “It gives the rest of your game a chance.”

McDowell’s loyal to his Odyssey White Hot #7 putter. It’s a heel-toe balanced putter.

“I’ve used a White Hot with the insert pretty much since college,” he said.

Ask Poulter, and he’ll tell you McDowell makes more big putts now because he’s giving himself more chances. In fact, McDowell’s third on the European Tour this season in hitting greens in regulation (75.7 percent). He was 128th in GIR (63 percent) four seasons ago but has made steady progress every year since.

“Graeme’s putting it all together,” Poulter said.

McDowell, 31, named with Martin Kaymer this week as the European Tour Players of the Year, is riding a giant wave of confidence. His Chevron victory, his fourth worldwide this year, moved him up four spots to No. 7 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

“It’s been an incredible season,” McDowell said as he prepares to finish off the year in this week’s Shark Shootout, a two-man team event he’s playing with fellow countryman Darren Clarke. “I’m very proud of myself, the way I’ve applied myself, especially the last six weeks, especially after the Ryder Cup. It would have been very easy to have said, `What a dream season,’ kicked the feet up and cruised out the rest of the year.”

Even McDowell says he never saw this year’s success coming.

“I’ve exceeded all my expectations this year,” McDowell said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

That doesn’t mean McDowell believe he’s overachieved. That’s what you took away listening to him after Wednesday’s pro-am. He’ll need some rest after playing his seventh consecutive event this week, but he’s eager to build on what he’s learned this season.

“I need to pour a lot of the confidence, and stuff that I’ve gained this year, back into my game,” McDowell said. “I know how much better I can get. There is a lot of room for improvement.”

Clarke loves what he’s seeing in his friend, what he saw in McDowell coming from four shots back in the final round to beat Woods last weekend.

“The season G-Mac’s had, I don’t think it would have made any difference who he was up against on Sunday,” Clarke said. “He’s a tough man to beat right now. Doesn’t make a difference if it’s Tiger, Lee [Westwood] or anybody.”

Nobody will leave 2010 more confident than McDowell.

“It’s been an amazing year,” he said.


Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.