Doubting Thomas

By Rex HoggardJuly 14, 2011, 3:10 pm

SANDWICH, England – Where do you turn when the rock you’ve leaned on for so many years is gone? Where do you hide when the world’s spotlight swings in your direction? Where do you find peace when you’re surrounded by demon of deeds past?

For Thomas Bjorn the answers came with each of his 65 swings on Thursday at Royal Wind Whipped. From the moment the Dane arrived for his opening round long before the sunrise broke over the White Cliffs of Dover something was different.

“On the range this morning he was very quiet, which is unusual for Thomas,” said his swing coach Pete Cowan. “You could see it on the course when things wouldn’t go his way. Normally that would cause him problems, but not today.”

Not on Thursday, not on this golf course, not even with the ghosts of Opens past swirling about in the cold, wet wind.

When Bjorn’s 9-iron tee shot at the par-3 16th hole soared into the gale and settled within 8 feet for birdie he smiled sheepishly. As he is quick to point out golf owes no one anything, but it was impossible not to score one for karma. For the second consecutive round he’d stepped to Royal St. George’s 16th tee with a two-shot lead, but this time he signed for a 2. This time was different.

Not that Bjorn has any interest in living in the past and for good reason. He’s an “old” 40 with more peaks and valleys in his career than St. George’s first fairway. For nearly a decade he’s been defined by what transpired on the English coast in 2003.

There was the misplayed tee shot at the 16th hole on Sunday, followed by two unproductive swipes to exit a greenside bunker, which resulted in a double bogey, a standing three count or so it seemed. From there his game, if not his mind, spiraled into a deep, dark place.

A year after his St. George’s snafu, Bjorn walked off the golf course during a round at the European Open. He said he was “fighting demons at the moment” and has been ever since.

By 2008 he’d dropped all the way to 195th in European Tour earnings and his best Open finish since ’03 was a tie for 41st in ’06. “I’ve been very uncomfortable on the golf course for a long time,” he said on Thursday.

Whether his prolonged slump and the collapse at St. George’s in ’03 were mutually exclusive, Bjorn couldn’t say. Nor did it really matter. Bad golf, whatever the culprit, is difficult enough without unwanted self analysis.

But then Vijay Singh’s aging back began acting up and Bjorn, an Open alternate, was told to be ready to play. He arrived on Tuesday, played just a single practice round and committed himself to toeing the line between unrealistic expectations and the psychological trap doors that awaited him when he made his first trip back to St. George’s since ’03.

“It’s tough for him coming here,” Cowen said. “You think, do you want to come here? But it’s like falling off a bike.”

For Bjorn it was a no-brainer and considering everything he’s had to deal with in his career maybe a return trip to Sandwich is just the tonic he’s been looking for.

It also helps that his game had been starting to come around this year. He served as one of Colin Montgomerie’s vice captains in 2010, won the Qatar Masters in February, defeated Tiger Woods at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, and was well on the path to a comeback when his father, Ole, died in May.

It was a particularly painful blow for Bjorn who was asked what Ole would have made of his Thursday 65 and at the time, his one-shot lead. The often stoic Bjorn paused, tried unsuccessfully to gather himself and finally managed a simple and emotional, “He would have been very proud of what I did today.”

Bjorn’s news conference felt more like an intervention, each question cutting deeper into a fragile psyche.

“I never really expected to play so there’s no reason to get too uptight,” he reasoned. “Today was a massive step in the right direction for me because mentally I was very strong on the golf course and that seems to be the problem.”

At this pace Bjorn may be a problem for the rest of the wind-whipped field. In theory, he soared atop the leaderboard from the “bad side” of the draw, with Thursday’s forecast windy in the morning with calmer conditions as the day wore on. It’s a truth that didn’t escape those playing catch-up.

“That's exceptional. That won't be caught, I promise you that,” said Mark Calcavecchia, who posted an opening 69.

For the day Bjorn had seven birdies and two bogeys, at Nos. 9 and 18, with just one birdie putt over 12 feet. Heady stuff considering he opened his charge in 2003 with a 73 and yet was in complete control through 67 holes. And he could have been even further ahead had he not suffered a two-stroke penalty at the 17th hole in the first round after grounding his club in a bunker.

Early Thursday as Bjorn and Cowen began their work day the swing coach noticed a line of flags rippling in the cold wind, a reason for some to stay in bed but not Bjorn.

“I tried to remind him on the range this morning, you need to remember in Qatar the wind was horrible and you played fantastic,” Cowen said. “He plays his best golf in the wind.”

Bjorn didn’t find the answers to all the questions that regularly swirl about his busy mind, and true redemption comes on Sundays, not Thursdays. But there was no escaping the idea that he may finally be asking himself the right question.

“I never let my mind wonder. I’m quite proud of that,” he said.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.

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Wie takes shot at LPGA dress code in crop top

By Grill Room TeamDecember 10, 2017, 5:33 pm

The new LPGA dress code got mixed reviews when it was announced in July, and Michelle Wie is taking full advantage of her offseason with no restrictions.

The 28-year-old former U.S. Women's Open champion is keeping her game sharp while back in her home state of Hawaii, but couldn't help taking a shot at the rules while doing it, posting a photo to Instagram of her playing golf in a crop top with the caption, "Offseason = No dress code fine."

Offseason = No dress code fines #croptopdroptop

A post shared by Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) on

Wie isn't the first to voice her displeasure with the rules. Lexi Thompson posted a similar photo and caption to Instagram shortly after the policy was announced.