Quick Round with Barry McDonnell

By Randall MellOctober 22, 2009, 11:37 pm

Rickie Fowler’s golf swing is a throwback

That’s what his father, Rod, calls the move Rickie fashioned under the eye of a driving range pro at Murrieta Valley Golf Range near their California home. Rickie was about 3 ½ when his grandfather, Taka Tanaka, took him to Barry McDonnell for his first lesson. McDonnell was the only swing coach Fowler knew from his start to the day he turned pro last month

Fowler, 20, the former Oklahoma State standout, made an impressive start last week in his first PGA Tour event as a professional with a tie for seventh at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The finish earned him a spot in this week’s Frys.com Open at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. It allowed him to pass on the sponsor’s exemption he had into the event.

PGA Tour fans seeing Fowler for the first time will notice he doesn’t have the classic swing most young players are taught today. He has a flat swing, that’s slightly laid off at the top and loops into his downswing. McDonnell will turn 74 in December and can still be found teaching at the Murrieta Valley Golf Range. His work with Fowler is celebrated on “Rickie’s Wall” in the range’s clubhouse. The wall sports a collection of photographs and mementos from Fowler’s many victories.

McDonnell learned from his grandfather, who came over from Scotland. His grandfather was the pro at New Bedford (Mass.) Country Club for 60 years. Senior writer Randall Mell caught up with McDonnell to talk about Fowler in a quick round:

As a driving range pro, were you a fan of the movie Tin Cup?

No, not really. I’m not big on that movie or the Happy Gilmore movie, either. Those movies were tough on business. We had people doing things they shouldn’t be doing, like aiming at houses and stuff. That wasn’t the best thing for range business. I like working at the range. You meet a lot of nice people, and you don’t have to keep 350 members happy.

You met Rickie when he was 3½, what do you remember about that?

I remember how he was all business even at that young age. He had this look in his eye. I called him the Little Hawk. He couldn’t wait to get started. He marched right out to where we were going to hit shots and was ready to go with no distractions. He would hit 5-woods to the pitching green, about a 60-yard carry. He was quiet. He didn’t talk a lot but neither did I.

Did he have that mop of long hair back then?

Oh yeah, he had that flowing hair even then.

Rickie’s father, Rod, was a Baha 1,000 champ. He had Rickie riding a dirt bike about the same time Rickie started golfing, right?

I didn’t realize Rickie was doing that at the time, but I knew he was a good athlete. When he started getting busted up on the bike, I thought, “Oh my goodness.”

Rickie broke his foot twice as a kid riding dirt bikes, once as a younger boy and once as a freshman at Murrieta Valley High School, three weeks before he was supposed to try out for the golf team. What did you think of motocross?

I remember him coming out in a cast to hit balls on one foot. Another time he came out with his chest caved in. I said, “We have to back off this sport, Rickie, God’s made golf your calling.”

How would you describe the swing you and Rickie built?

I try to make sure I don’t tell juniors things they don’t need to know, so they don’t get confused. You could see Rickie was a little lopsided when he started, his weight on one side where he would dig in for power, but he was right on plane. He swung his dad’s driver even when he was little.

Rickie’s dad and grandfather never cut down a driver for him, right? At first, he played with a woman’s driver, and then his father’s driver as he got a little older.

That’s how he worked that little figure eight into his swing.

Was that good for him, swinging that big club?

That gave him a lot of strength in his hands and forearms. He got a lot of speed doing that. I could see he was coming from inside and catching the ball square, so I didn’t take it away from him. I used to have him hit the ball with his eyes closed, for feel and confidence, going strictly by feel and rhythm gives you confidence.

So the flatter swing came from having that big driver?

He had to kind of work the club outside so he wouldn’t bounce the club over the ball. He would take the club out and drop it back in. That’s how he finds his ball. I told him don’t ever go away from that move. The only way he hits it left is if he pulls it. When he drops inside, he can hit it as strong as he wants. I have a bunch of kids I work with, and I don’t try to make them all look alike. Golf is more an art form than a science.

Rickie’s father calls you old school.

They say that, I don’t know. I let kids find their own personality in their swings. I just try to get the fundamentals in there, but I don’t try to make them all look alike. If the club is coming from the inside, and they get square to the ball, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good swing.

What’s the personality that comes through Rickie’s swing?

Confidence and feel. You can tell, he just feels it and does it. It’s the old Bob Toski deal. See it, feel it, do it. Rickie can do it.

Rickie’s college coach, Oklahoma State’s Mike McGraw, says Rickie’s daredevil nature as a motocross kid comes through in the way he likes to hit different shots, challenging shots. Do you see that?

Yes, he does things that are just fun to watch. We used to work on shots all the time. We were always working on trying shots instead of just hitting balls. Little kids don’t get bored that way.

What kind of shots?

It might be the 18th hole at Augusta. “We need a cut here, can you do it?” He would always say, “Yeah, I can do it.” And I’d tell him I knew he could do it. Or it might be the 13th hole at Augusta, where you needed to hit a draw around the corner. He loved the challenge of that. It got his juices going. I told him you have to love the pressure of having to make a shot. I think all great players like that.

Rod said you taught Rickie to be mentally tough, never to let anyone intimidate him.

You just get out of Rickie’s way and let him play. He’s got it. He never stopped learning. It’s key. I spent most of my time on the mental side. I keep working my kids’ minds. It’s harder to groove your mind than your golf swing.

What are you trying to teach?

I’m trying to get them to believe in themselves, and not to play with a lot of thought. Just concentrate on your target. Your target may be 20 feet left, or 20 feet right, or dead at the pin.

Rickie recently bought a place in Las Vegas. Has he visited the range lately?

Yes, he came out a couple weeks before the Walker Cup, but he’s all over the place now. I got him where I want him, and he can take care of himself now. I told him I can’t be with him all the time, so he’s good at working things out on his own. Jack Nicklaus didn’t have Jack Grout with him all the time. Nicklaus said he knew he was good when he knew he could put himself back together. I believe in that. When Rickie does come to town, he takes some of my juniors out and plays golf with them. It’s a big thrill for them. He’s good about that.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

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Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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