Friends, former coach not surprised how Watson won

By Rex HoggardApril 10, 2012, 4:03 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – As Erik Compton watched Sunday’s action unfold everything seemed in its proper order.

The folksy glide, the unorthodox swing, the fearless abandon, Compton had seen it for years but as Bubba Watson made his way through Augusta National’s historic closing stretch his former University of Georgia teammate noticed something different.

There was a focus in Watson’s face, maybe even a calm, if such a concept exists in that marvelously manic mind. When the eventual champion’s tee shot sailed into the trees right of the 10th fairway on the second playoff hole Compton knew something was different. Something special was about to happen.

“I get it because I have the ADD (attention deficit disorder) thing. He sees things in curves,” said Compton, who grew up playing junior golf against Watson and later with him at Georgia. “I knew he’d have a shot (at the second playoff hole). I think he won the Masters because he hit it in the trees. If he’d hit in the fairway he would have had a harder shot.”

Video: Watson surprises 'Morning Drive' crew with 30-minute guest appearance

It is the delicate balance of what Watson calls “Bubba golf.”

Compton took it a step further, calling it “Bubba’s way,” because it’s not just the blur-of-moving-parts swing that defines Watson, it’s the entire package – fearless, often to a fault, frequently distracted and undoubtedly talented, everyone who has ever been around Watson has immediately known that.

When Heath Slocum’s father took the head professional job in the early 1990s at Tanglewood Golf & Country Club in Milton, Fla., he immediately heard the rumors about the skinny fifth-grader who could hit it a country mile and curve it even farther.

“You could see he was raw, but he had to be good,” Slocum said. “He had so much game. I saw him try stuff that at the time I didn’t think was possible, and a lot of the time he pulled it off.”

So when Slocum, who was on vacation with his family and eating dinner when Sunday’s playoff reached its climax, received a text message from a friend that read, “(Bubba) just hooked a wedge 50 yards onto the green (at the second playoff hole). Two putts to win,” he wasn’t surprised.

The Tanglewood 19th hole is filled with tales of Watson’s fearless feats. Some of them are even true, outlandish stories that Georgia men’s golf coach Chris Haack had heard when he recruited the junior college transfer in 1999.

Haack took Watson to play Augusta National for the first time in the spring of 2000 and watched with great interest, and perhaps a little nostalgia, as his former player slashed his way to victory.

To Haack it was quintessential Bubba. He’d seen it for years when they’d march Watson to the bottom of the practice tee at the University of Georgia Golf Course and he’d pelt the range shed with drives.

“That was a 300-yard carry, uphill,” Haack laughed. “And that was before the new ball. I saw that a bunch; he was always a creative shot-maker and his game hasn’t changed much.”

Watson’s mind, however, has evolved. That was clear on Sunday when he birdied four consecutive holes starting at the 13th, when he split the fairway at the 72nd hole to virtually assure a playoff and when he calmly two-putted the second extra frame for victory.

It is telling that for Haack it was Watson’s putting, not his power, that impressed the most. Under pressure, the longtime coach had seen Watson’s tendency to decelerate on short putts.

These tendencies had shown up before.

Last month, Watson went into the final round at the WGC-Cadillac Championship with a three-stroke lead, signed for an outward loop of 39 and finished a stroke behind Justin Rose. At the 2010 PGA Championship, he bogeyed the 71st hole to drop into a playoff with Martin Kaymer and dumped his approach shot into a hazard on the third extra hole on his way to a double bogey to lose by a stroke.

“Just the fact that he had a fairly level head impressed me the most,” said Haack, who was contacted by the Georgia athletic director on Monday and informed to tell Watson that the school plans to honor him at a home game next football season.

But if clarity of thought when it mattered was the key for those who have watched Watson evolve from rail-thin swashbuckler to major  champion, it was his slashing creativity that most will remember from the 2012 Masters.

Watson bristled late Sunday when it was suggested he couldn’t hit a straight shot saying, “I can hit it straight. It’s just it’s easier to see curves.” Those who have watched, however, beg to differ.

“I’m sure he could hit one but it might be a mistake,” Haack said, while Compton’s take was more pointed, “He says he can hit a straight shot, but I don’t believe it.”

The world may love “Bubba golf” in the wake of Watson’s major breakthrough, but consider Haack’s plight as a coach who always had to walk the fine line of trying to temper such immense talent.

“On one hand you tried to make observations on how to play a particular hole, but you didn’t want to take his strength out of his hands,” Haack said. “He is aggressive and powerful and that’s great, but it did bite him a few times.”

A “few times,” may be a bit of an understatement. Truth is on any given day Watson could win a tournament or finish last, it all depended on his mood and his ability to make magic out of mistakes like he did late Sunday at Augusta National.

“He could be 11 under par (in a team qualifier) and not qualify,” Compton recalls. “He could make an 18 on any hole. A 400-yard par 4 he tries to drive, you never knew. He’s Tin Cup, but he’s Tin Cup with a green jacket now.”

The artist, however flawed, finally has his masterpiece.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.