The Mystique

By Randall MellJanuary 14, 2011, 7:52 am
Jack Nicklaus admitted it. Sometimes, he just waited for players to beat themselves.

As Nicklaus built his skill, as he built victory upon victory, he also built an intimidating mystique that added to his edge.

Tom Weiskopf once captured the nature of the edge with a classic quote.

Tiger Woods
Players have found Tiger Woods less intimidating after his worst season. (Getty Images)
In a telephone conversation from his Arizona office this week, Weiskopf remembered the psychological battle so many players encountered when paired with Nicklaus in a final round with a championship within reach.

And those memories led Weiskopf to repeat his classic quote.

“As you looked at Jack Nicklaus at the first tee, you knew that he knew that you knew that he was going to beat you that day,” Weiskopf said.

So much of golf, tour pros will tell you, is played in the mind. If you don’t step on the first tee believing you can beat somebody, you probably won’t. Nicklaus won a lot of duels before they even began.

Or maybe it was the other way around. Maybe it was Nicklaus’ foes who lost before teeing it up.

“Belief is a huge factor,” Weiskopf said. “There is no doubt about it.”

That’s what makes Woods’ quest to break Nicklaus’ record for most professional major championship victories so difficult to figure as Woods prepares to rebound from the worst year of his career and renew his chase.

How much of Woods’ quest will be about regaining his confidence? And how much will be about the confidence his foes have gained?

How much more difficult will winning majors be for Woods without the psychological edge he built? How much more difficult will it be with his competition emboldened?

Weiskopf’s career fell in such a way that he had a unique view of three of the most formidable mystiques in golf history.

Weiskopf played against Nicklaus, and he also played against Ben Hogan late in Hogan’s career, when Hogan was still an intimidating ball striker but not as good with the putter. Though Weiskopf never played against Woods, he’s played three practice rounds with him, and he’s watched him a lot.

In Nicklaus, Hogan and Woods, Weiskopf got to see how an intimidating aura tilted the playing field.

Nicklaus and Hogan eventually lost their advantages between the ropes, but the loss came in a slow fade, with age and the deterioration of skills. They never lost their mystique off the course.

Woods is different. He lost his mystique all at once, on and off the course.

Woods’ mystique might have been more formidable than Nicklaus’ or Hogan’s because he was even more successful with a lead in the final round of a major. Woods appeared more unbeatable than Nicklaus or Hogan. Woods was 14-0 with the lead in a final round of a major before Y.E. Yang beat him at the PGA Championship at Hazeltine in 2009.

The personal turmoil that’s followed revelations of Woods’ infidelity, the loss to Yang, the winless struggles last year and the head-to-head loss to Graeme McDowell have dramatically changed the way players look at Woods.

“I think it will be very difficult for Tiger now because of the perception people have of him,” Weiskopf said.

You can hear the emboldened nature of Woods’ competition today.

“Bring it on,” Rory McIlroy said when asked about Woods’ improving game while in New York this winter.

This was after McIlroy said European Ryder Cuppers were eager for a chance to beat Woods last fall.

Ian Poulter called Woods “No. 2” at the Chevron World Challenge after Woods lost his No. 1 ranking, a bold little payback for Woods chiding Poulter in the past.

And then there was PGA Tour veteran Scott Verplank, who last month said Woods’ “shield of invincibility has been dissolved” and that players were not all that worried about Woods anymore.

The playing field is less reverent for Woods, less hospitable.

Plus, tour pros aren’t being peppered with questions about what makes Woods so great. In fact, for nearly a year, they’ve been asked what they see hindering his game and if they think he’ll regain his winning form.

Weiskopf, who claimed 16 PGA Tour titles, including the ’73 British Open, wonders like everyone else how Woods will respond in this new environment.

“Perception is very difficult to achieve, but just as difficult to overcome,” Weiskopf said. “I wouldn’t want to bet against Tiger, because time is on his side, but he had the perception of being perfect. Everything about him was marketed correctly. And the way he answered questions, he was almost infallible, more perfect than the pope. Well, that perception is gone.

“Tiger has now experienced what everyone who has played the game has experienced. He has gone through injury, he has gone through troubling times.”

As formidable as Nicklaus was, Weiskopf believes Woods’ advantage over this generation was greater than Nicklaus enjoyed in his time.

“Only time is going to prove what I’m going to say, but I do believe Jack Nicklaus competed against a more experienced, proven group of champions,” Weiskopf said. “I think there was less intimidation, more desire and belief in those individuals Nicklaus competed against. Look at the Hall of Famers he played against. I think there was more belief that they had a chance than there was in the first 10 or 12 years of Tiger’s career.”

But there’s another factor that Weiskopf gives to Woods that Weiskopf believes is overlooked.

With dramatic advances in club and ball technology, Weiskopf says equipment has been a great equalizer for the foes trying to beat Woods. It’s more difficult today, Weiskopf believes, for Woods or any skilled player to separate himself.

Still, Weiskopf favors Nicklaus when asked who he believes will be remembered as the greatest player. He says the greatness in Nicklaus goes beyond the 18 majors he won. He says it’s in the fact that Nicklaus finished among the top three in an astounding 46 majors.

“Nobody’s ever going to do that again, ever,” Weiskopf said. “Only time will prove whether Jack was the greatest player or not, but I think he is.”

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.