Quite the Stable

By Randall MellSeptember 16, 2010, 10:25 pm

The game’s best teachers are making their special marks this year in tournament golf.

Butch Harmon has watched Phil Mickelson win another major, his newest pupil, Dustin Johnson, make a run at PGA Tour Player of the Year honors and his oldest pupil, Fred Couples, dominate on the Champions Tour.

David Leadbetter helped Michelle Wie return to the winner’s circle in a hot, late-summer run.

Jim McLean is a guiding hand in the rise of teen phenom Alexis Thompson.

David Whelan and Paula Creamer
David Whelan with Paula Creamer at the 2007 McDonald's LPGA. (Getty Images)

And Sean Foley’s popularity is soaring with Tiger Woods moving under his watchful eye in the same year Justin Rose and Hunter Mahan have won PGA Tour events.

Big years, for sure, but David Whelan may be trumping them all.

No teacher’s influence reached deeper or wider than Whelan’s this summer.

The evidence is in the variety of champions and championships he touched.

Paula Creamer (U.S. Women’s Open), Peter Uihlein (U.S. Amateur) and Doris Chen (U.S. Girls’ Junior) all won U.S. Golf Association titles under Whelan’s tutelage in a remarkable eight-week span this summer. Jaclyn Sweeney didn’t win the U.S. Women’s Amateur, but she shared medalist honors with Whelan helping her. And if you go back 14 months, you can add Catriona Matthew to Whelan’s list of champions. Whelan helped her win the Ricoh Women’s British Open late last summer.

While fans who follow golf know Whelan’s special gifts, the run of champions he’s touched makes you wonder why he doesn’t get more credit for his influence. Though his pupils sing his praises, the spotlight rarely finds him. And he says that’s the way he likes it.

“David’s had a lot of success,” said David Leadbetter, who first coached and later mentored Whelan. “He’s a really, really good teacher, an excellent communicator who has a great way with people, but he’s a very low-key guy. He’s not into self-promotion.

“But you ask the people who work with him, and he’s very popular. Paula Creamer really leans on him.”

Whelan is the director of instruction at the IMG Leadbetter Golf Academy in Bradenton. It’s where he first met Creamer and Uihlein.

While Whelan is a fixture on the driving range, he isn’t typically around when reporters break out notebooks to interview his students. You follow Creamer, and you’ll see Whelan popping up at the gallery ropes, and trading thoughts with Creamer’s father, Paul, but you won’t often see him around microphones when the day’s done.

“My theory is that it’s all about the player,” Whelan says. “If you are out there for your own reasons and your own reputation, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. In some ways, when the players I’m working with do well, it’s more relief to me than joy. When you are influencing somebody’s game, especially a highly talented athlete, you have to be concerned about them first.”

The concern might never have run higher than his time with Creamer at the U.S. Women’s Open at Oakmont back in July.

Just three months after a doctor cut open Creamer’s left thumb to reconstruct ligaments, tendons and a torn volar plate, Whelan was at Creamer’s side to help with more than her swing. He was instrumental in devising a game plan to help her navigate one of the great American tests of golf and its beastly greens.

In practice rounds at Oakmont, Creamer said Whelan stood on every tee box with her, plotting out strategy.

“His thoughts of becoming `in sync’ with the golf course were very important concepts in the heat of the battle,” Creamer said. “He created a game plan for each hole that sounded good to me. We discussed it, then it was up to me to execute it.”

Creamer, despite obvious pain, won the U.S. Women’s Open by four shots. She won just seven weeks after she began hitting balls following surgery.

“The biggest challenge was not being able to practice as much as Paula normally practices,” Whelan said. “The work that was done to get ready had to be done in very short and intense periods.”

That’s a testament to the level of Whelan and Creamer’s communication.

When Uihlein won the U.S. Amateur at Chambers Bay last month, he credited Whelan with helping him take his game to another level by hitting more fairways and by showing him how to take spin off shots around the greens.

“When you’ve got somebody who generates as much power as Peter does, as much ball speed, the goal is to control that,” Whelan said.

A former European Tour pro from Newcastle in England, Whelan once beat Nick Faldo in a playoff at the Barcelona Open. That was back in 1988. The victory came a couple years after Whelan turned to Leadbetter for help with his game, a connection that would eventually lead Whelan into teaching as a Leadbetter disciple.

After 10 years as the European director of instruction for the David Leadbetter Golf Academy, Whelan moved to the United States in 2003 to work for Leadbetter in Bradenton.

“I started with David Whelan when I was 15 years old and have never even considered any other coach since that first day,” Creamer said.

Creamer said she respects Whelan’s studious approach, the way he observes and evaluates without feeling the need to quickly “fix” something. She also likes the fact that he competed at the highest level.

“David learned early on with me that I am a more visual learner,” Creamer said. “When I see something done properly, it is easier for me to imitate the movement, or shot, than to just be told how to do it. Because David has such an incredible short game, for example, when he sees me struggle, he will ask for the club and execute the shot repeatedly. I almost get the `feel’ of the shot through him.”

While Whelan learned Leadbetter’s swing principles, he says he’s keenly aware of how everything must be adapted to the uniqueness of every player’s swing. Ask him to detail his method, and Whelan will tell you it depends on the player. Whether he’s teaching Creamer, Uihlein, Matthew, Chen or anyone else, he takes into account a player’s individuality, knowing there are different paths to the same successful ends.

“I try to keep it very simple,” Whelan said. “I try to talk to players in a language they understand, that’s always different. I have feel players, technical players, those who learn by seeing, those by listening. It’s about getting to know your students, assessing that `This is where you are,’ and `This is where you need to be,’ and `This is how you get there. So, let’s get on with a plan and stay focused on it.’”

That approach is proving a winning method.

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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.