My Major Moments

By Randall MellDecember 28, 2010, 5:30 am

I got dumped for Clint Eastwood on a golf date. I choked hitting a shot in front of Morgan Pressel. I was moved listening to Erik Compton’s brother explain how their remarkable family happily endures, and I practically leaped out of my shoes watching the most exciting birdie I’ve ever seen.

This column comes with a “first-person” warning.

As you’ve already observed, it’s a highly personalized look back at 2010.

My golf travels don’t take me out every week, but this is my eyewitness account of 10 poignant moments that moved me this year:

 

A different kind of cat

A few years back, I was standing under “The Tree” behind the Augusta National Clubhouse when Tiger Woods strode out of the locker room door on his way to a practice round at the Masters.

It was classic Tiger.

His eyes were locked on his destination, the practice putting green. He came out marching briskly, purpose in every stride. With a cluster of cameramen racing to keep up, one poor fellow tried to stay in front of Woods for his shot. Backpedaling furiously, he slammed into a low-hanging branch. Never saw what hit him. Woods didn’t break stride, didn’t flinch, didn’t even seem to blink on his way to the green. I remember thinking there isn’t an uncertain cell in Tiger’s body.

I was there again last spring, when Woods played a Monday practice round. It was his first public appearance since the sex scandal broke.

As I followed Woods that day, I kept thinking: “Who is this guy?” The purposeful stride, the certainty of gesture, were gone. He wandered the course more than he marched it. There was almost timidity in the way he gratefully and uncertainly reached out to fans who followed him. He later acknowledged he was nervous about what patrons would think of him. That Monday will always remind me what Tiger Woods faced in trying to find himself and his game in his new life.


Cristie lets her hair down

With Cristie Kerr walking onto the 18th green at the end of her record 12-shot victory at the LPGA Championship, she literally let her hair down. She took off her cap, undid her pony tail and shook out her long, blonde locks to the delight of the fans who cheered her there. The win made her the first American to become No. 1 in the Rolex women’s world rankings.

“Who is this woman?” I remember thinking.

As a South Florida golf writer, I saw Kerr in her early years, when she was a pudgy, bespectacled teenager who left her spike marks on all the teens she demolished growing up. Sometimes, I felt like she had left her spike marks on me. This was a girl who played on the boys’ team at Miami Sunset High and once told Robert Floyd, the son of famed Raymond Floyd, that she was going to kick his butt before their match. And then she did kick his butt. This was a girl more fighter than golfer in spirit, but I’ll always remember her letting her hair down like never before in that record rout at Locust Hill.


High-Plains Drifter

What Clint Eastwood giveth, Clint Eastwood taketh away.

In my best assignment of the year, I was scheduled to play Pebble Beach for a story with the head professional, Chuck Dunbar. On the eve of the round, his assistant called to ask if I minded showing up early because a friend of Dunbar’s wanted to play with us. The friend, she said, was actor/comedian George Lopez.

With Lopez standing there, the first-tee jitters in my first round at Pebble Beach doubled. Lopez explained that he had a golf date scheduled with Eastwood at Cypress Point that morning but Eastwood had to cancel when an unexpected meeting came up. Lopez was personable, down-to-earth, a real golf fan. We talked about the upcoming Accenture Match Play Championship walking down the first fairway, about his friend Mike Weir on the second tee, but then Lopez’s cell phone rang at the third tee box. It was Clint Eastwood. He was out of his meeting earlier than expected and wanted to know if George could still make a morning tee time at Cypress Point.

'Did I hit five shots or six on the last hole?' I thought to myself as Lopez was whisked away to meet up with Eastwood. 'To tell you the truth, in all the excitement, I lost track myself.'

For the young among you, that leads into a famous Eastwood line from Dirty Harry.

Dumped for Clint Eastwood and Cypress Point, I can live with that. A man, after all, has got to know his limitations. In the back of my mind, though, I’ll always wonder if George felt like Eastwood’s call was a reprieve after enduring two of my wayward tee shots.


Knowing thyself

People take this the wrong way, but I’ve always been more riveted listening to an athlete who has just endured a heartbreaking loss than one who’s just realized a dream.

There’s no sadistic delight waiting on a player who has just lost something, but you often learn a lot more about the nature of a player’s character when he's stripped bare.

That’s what I’ll remember about listening to Dustin Johnson when he came out of the locker room after his controversial penalty for grounding his club in a bunker at the end of the PGA Championship. While Johnson made himself look bad admitting he never read the local rules sheet that week, I sensed this was a man with an unwavering sense of himself despite what happened at Whistling Straits and the final round of the U.S. Open. He screwed up, but he wasn’t a screw up. That’s what I got standing next to Johnson that day. I left thinking this was a guy we were going to see put himself right back in the hunt because he wasn’t afraid of large moments or what they could do to him.


Choking under pressure

In my former life as the golf writer at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, I covered Morgan Pressel from the day she burst onto the scene as a 12-year-old who qualified for the U.S. Women’s Open. That’s what made me feel so awkward over my own shot in the Morgan & Friends Fight Breast Cancer Golf Tournament at her home club at St. Andrews in Boca Raton, Fla. Pressel’s helped raise more than $1.1 million in the fight over the last three years. She was on our tee box to help us hit a shot there.

“Randy,” she said. “Do you know this is the first time I’ve ever seen you swing a golf club?”

I promptly hooked my tee shot in the trees. It wasn’t a good year for me playing in front of professionals. I missed a 2-foot putt to lose a hole in front of Gavin Coles at Orange County National.


Getting a grip

I wrote that when Arnold Palmer stepped out his front door for the taping of Golf Channel’s “12 Nights at the Academy,' you could swear the clouds stopped rolling to hold their position. At 81, Palmer still has a commanding presence. I got to step into his garage at Bay Hill with a half dozen other reporters to watch Golf Channel’s Kelly Tilghman lead Palmer through the show. It was a treat watching Palmer tinker in his garage, showing Tilghman exactly how his father taught him to grip the club.

“When I need to be alone and do my thing, this is where I go,” Palmer said of his garage. “It’s nice to get down here. It’s very quiet. Nobody knows where I am, unless I tell them. I get away from everything.”


Golf’s wildest setting

Being on the first tee at the start of a Ryder Cup makes you wonder if golf might be better off with chanting, heckling and booing.

It’s a crazy-stupid thought, but if you’ve ever been to the start of a Ryder Cup, you can’t help wondering.

Even a steady rain couldn’t dampen the mood at the start of the matches in Wales this fall. I was behind the first tee, getting soaked, when Stewart Cink lifted his cap to the massive crowd. Exposing his bald dome ignited one of many original moments there.

“We’ve got more hair!” Europeans began chanting with Cink laughing.


Golf’s most remarkable family

I followed Erik Compton during the first round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and wrote that just teeing it up made his the most remarkable performance in 110 years of the championship. He is, after all, the only player to qualify with not just one heart transplant behind him, but two.

I walked with Compton’s parents, Peter and Eli. I also walked with Compton’s wife, Barbara, and his older brother, Christian. They’re a remarkable family that remains strong and vital despite all their troubles. Eli is a cancer survivor. Christian’s also had his problems. He was temporarily paralyzed after breaking his neck in a snowboarding accident in college but has nearly completely recovered.

Christian delivered my all-time favorite quote that day putting his recovery into perspective. He offered words that captured the family’s good humor and brave spirit.

“In my family, a broken neck’s not enough to complain about,” Christian told me.


Goose bumps and golf shots

On the eve of the Ryder Cup, I walked parts of Celtic Manor with Larry Dorman of the New York Times.

Though the sun was slashing through the gray clouds over the Usk Valley, scouting the course was still a tricky proposition. The hillsides were mucky and wet and some folks were sporting dirty seat bottoms from their spills. But it was more than worth the walk with blue patches of sky opening as we made our way back to the 18th hole. Usk Valley was heavenly when the sun won its battles with the gloom there.

On the hillside above the finishing hole, we stopped to watch Graeme McDowell and Padraig Harrington play up with European captain Colin Montgomerie watching them. With McDowell walking to his shot, this wondrous music began wafting up from the bottom of the valley. It was soul-stirring stuff rising from a stage below, where Ryder Cup officials were preparing for the opening ceremony. It was the kind of sound that touched something ancient in your soul. It made you feel like charging a castle door. Or defending one. It was the Welsh National Anthem.

There must have been 15,000 people jammed on that hillside alone for the final practice round. When McDowell stuck his shot close to the flagstick, a roar erupted. The shot didn’t even count. I don’t get goose bumps at sporting events much anymore, but I got them there in a practice round.


Best birdie I ever saw

My favorite golf moment this year came near my home at Orange County National outside Orlando, Fla.

It’s a moment for golf fathers everywhere.

Orange County was host to the final stage of the PGA Tour Qualifying Tournament this year. Lots of fathers beamed over what their sons did on the Panther Lake and Crooked Cat courses at Q-School, but my moment unfolded a month earlier on the Tooth, the terrific executive course there. It’s a nine-hole trek that’s perfect for father-son or father-daughter bonding. Kids play for free.

My 11-year-old son, Jacob, playing just his fourth or fifth round of golf, set up at the eighth tee. He was determined to make his first par since learning the game. With the pin back, the par 3 was playing about 140 yards. There’s water guarding the front of the hole, bunkers left and right. With a fairway wood, Jacob hit a pretty little fade over the pond and hit the green with his ball running about 30 feet right of the flagstick. It might have been the first green he ever hit in regulation.

With Jacob over his putt, I wondered what it would be like if he actually ran the putt in for birdie. I found out. With his putt looking like it was going to die agonizingly short on the lip, the ball made one last glorious wobble and tumbled over the edge.

Jacob leaped, then I leaped, and I'm not certain we touched the ground until we floated home to tell his mom.

If you’re a father who plays golf with your child, I hope you have a moment as grand as that. If you don’t, I hope your moment awaits in a Happy New Year.

Follow Randall Mell on Twitter @RandallMell

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

Woods' initial comeback short-lived, leads to another back surgery

Article: Woods undergoes "successful" fourth back surgery

Article: Woods (back spasm) withdraws from Dubai

Article: Players disappointed Woods withdraws from Dubai

Really, again: Tiger undergoes fourth back surgery

Begay on Tiger: Future is 'extremely uncertain'


Woods arrested for DUI, enters diversion program after getting "professional help"

Article: Woods arrested for DUI in May

Article: Police say Woods had 5 drugs in system when arrested

Article: DUI affidavit states Tiger asleep in parked car

Dashcam video released of Tiger's DUI arrest

Begay, Rolfing: Tiger's arrest needs to be wakeup call

Photos: Tiger Woods' car during DUI arrest

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Photos: Tiger Woods in court for DUI hearing

Article: Tiger gets 'professional help' for prescription meds

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving


Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

Article: Tiger doesn't know what future holds

Article: Woods back to making full swings

Woods admits he might never return to competition

Making progress: Breaking down Tiger's driver swing


Woods returns to competition for first time since February at Hero World Challenge

Article: Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

Article: Woods discusses his back: 'No issues at all, none'

Tiger Tracker: Woods finished T-9 in return to competition

Chamblee: 'I was wrong' about some of my Woods skepticism

Tiger, if you were hurting, would you tell us? 'Yeah, I'd tell you'


Woods out and about in 2017

Article: Video, images of Tiger's round with Trump

Article: Woods posts photo as 'Mac Daddy Santa'

Article: Tiger at U.S. Open sitting in Nadal's box

Article: Shirtless Tiger holds up a massive lobster

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.