Marriott, Nilsson on cusp of having a third No. 1 player

By Randall MellJune 6, 2017, 8:41 pm

Nobody else really does what they do in coaching.

Not in golf, anyway.

Nobody’s reach goes quite as wide as Pia Nilsson’s and Lynn Marriott’s in their Vision54 approach to teaching the game.

There’s a challenge in that.

What do we call Nilsson and Marriott? What kind of coaches are they, exactly?

There’s a challenge in defining their special contributions to the game as they release their fourth book this week, “Be a Player,” and as they help guide their third player to the Rolex world No. 1 ranking, with Ariya Jutanugarn on the cusp of the top ranking.

Yes, Nilsson and Marriott are both formally trained as swing coaches. They can break down swing technique, but their mission goes way beyond the skills they’ve gained studying swing mechanics.

Nilsson and Marriott do not pretend to be sports psychologists, though their intensive study of player behavior takes them beyond what a lot of sports psychologists do. The “field work” they’ve accumulated over 30 years, their observations of how players plan, execute and react to shots, has led to some of the most original analysis in golf coaching.

The “Think Box,” “Play Box” and “Memory Box” teaching models they created might make them the first behavioral-based teachers in the game.

“Advances in technology, equipment and fitness are great for the game,” Nilsson told “But `Be a Player’ is about the human skills you use to play the game.”

By human skills, Nilsson and Marriott mean what players can learn about themselves when they are playing well and what they can learn about themselves when they are not playing well. They mean awareness of behavior, emotions and thinking. They mean managing all of that.

“Awareness leads to clarity,” they write in their newest book with the help of Susan K. Reed. “Clarity creates choices. Awareness is at the core of our teaching.”

Vision54 burst to a higher profile with Nilsson and Marriott’s work helping Annika Sorenstam dominate the women’s game. They also helped Ai Miyazato rise to Rolex world No. 1. They’ve worked with Suzann Pettersen, Brittany Lincicome and Brittany Lang over the years, but their work isn’t limited to women. They also work with PGA Tour pros Russell Knox, Kevin Streelman and Arron Oberholser, and they relish their work with amateurs and recreational players.

So what should we call Nilsson and Marriott?

“We are performance coaches,” Nilsson said.

That’s sort of a new idea in golf, but it fits the larger role Nilsson and Marriott see themselves serving.

Nilsson, a former LPGA tour player, developed the “54 vision” idea coaching the Swedish national team. It was an idea that it was possible a player could birdie every hole in a single round.

“One of the things I noticed is that our players had some limiting beliefs, the belief that we couldn’t be as good, because our winters were so long,” Nilsson said. “That American and southern European players were better than us. The 54 idea was meant to address that kind of excuse making.”

Nilsson’s 54 vision was originally designed to get Swedish players focused more on what’s possible.

“It changed everyone’s thinking,” Nilsson said. “Annika was one of the first players who really took the idea to heart. It was one of the smartest things we did.”

Marriott was the LPGA’s Teacher of the Year in ’92, and she won the coveted LPGA’s Ellen Griffin Rolex Award for major contributions to teaching in ‘08.

Nilsson won the Griffin Award last year.

When Nilsson and Marriott formally formed “Vision54” in 1998, they expanded the “54” concept.

“We wanted people to embrace Vision54 as a philosophy, or a metaphor, or a paradigm, as far as looking at possibilities,” Marriott said. “We think Vision54 is an attitude.”

Nilsson and Marriott do more of their work with tour pros on a golf course than on a driving range, which also sets them apart. At tour events, they do most of their work walking practice rounds alongside players.

They’re big believers in that.

“Even as a technical teacher, the swing you need to be looking at is the one that’s made on the golf course, not on the range, because the one on the range is out of context,” Marriott said. “The epiphanies players have, the real changes, happen on the golf course.”

Back when Nilsson was the Swedish national coach, so many of her players already had their own swing coaches from their home clubs. So, she began looking for ways to supplement the coaching they were getting. She began intensely studying her players’ behavior on the course, to see how she could help performances.

Nilsson and Marriott look for more than shot patterns when they walk with players. They observe how players react to slow play, to shots and situations that make players uncomfortable, to how routines aid or hinder, and they note what body language reveals.

They have learned how caddie interactions affect different players. They’ve learned how reactions to bad shots stay with players and how personality types require different outlets to frustration.

“The Memory Box is never going to have much context working with a player on the driving range,” Marriott said.

“You aren’t going to see a lot of clubs thrown on the range,” Nilsson said.

Nilsson and Marriott aren’t allowed to walk alongside players in tournament rounds, but they say they learn so much even behind gallery ropes.

“It is so important that we are able to observe players in tournament rounds,” Nilsson said. “That’s where we get to know who they really are.

“A technical teacher may be more interested in seeing a swing on video, or on TrackMan, and dissecting it. For us, we want to see our players in competition. That is the most important thing to us.”

It’s what makes “performance coaches” the best possible description of what Nilsson and Marriott do.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''