The Great Divide

By Rex HoggardMay 1, 2010, 3:01 am
Quail Hollow ChampionshipCHARLOTTE, N.C. – There was a time, not that long ago, when golf fans of every ilk celebrated the show. When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson went Cooperstown on a warm spring morning at Doral in 2005, fans of the game, not the player, rejoiced in the event.

“What a day,” we gushed indifferent to individual loyalties. Whether your guy won or watched, when alpha and omega take their best to the same pitch it’s the show, not the outcome, that really matters.

But on Friday at Quail Hollow on an equally picturesque spring day the reality came like a 6-iron out of the pine straw – bipartisanship, at least on an individual level, has caught the early flight home.

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods sits dejected during Round 2 of the Quail Hollow Championship. (Getty Images)
“I want to see Phil win and extend that winning streak over Tiger,” growled one scribe as Mickelson made his way toward the top of the leaderboard with two birdies and an eagle in seven holes.

Another story-teller summed up Sunday at Augusta National as, “The afternoon in the garden of good and evil.” An over simplification to be sure that stretches reason with the notion that Woods’ character is without redeeming qualities of any kind and Mickelson’s is above reproach. It is as dogmatic as it is incorrect.

But in this the newsprint is simply a reflection of the times. Whether it was through Woods’ self-induced fall from grace or Mickelson’s made-for-television triumph at the Masters the chasm between those who cheer Lefty’s brash indifference to consequence or Tiger’s tactical brilliance has never been wider.

At no other time outside of the 212 area code has Tiger-Phil been so polarizing.

Don’t get it twisted, this isn’t Manchester United vs. Chelsea. But not since the days of Arnie’s Army and the Golden Bear’s best have loyalties outside of the ropes been so fractured.

 This is as divisive as sports get, at least our sport.

Make no mistake, Woods is still revered for his body of work, past and future.

“(The fans) are incredible. The fans here all the years I've been here have been extraordinary, and today with it being 50 degrees this morning or 45 degrees, for them to come out there and support us was pretty cool.,” said Woods, who has been almost universally cheered post-Nov. 27.

But Mickelson is loved. Lefty has always held down the top supporting actor role with the occasional cameo from Garcia or Els, but his days as the preeminent understudy began to fade last year at the Bethpage Open.

The combination of Amy Mickelson’s ongoing health issues, a Winged Foot hangover that seemed to linger right up to the moment Mickelson slipped on his third green jacket earlier this month and an engaged populace made Lefty the de facto favorite when Woods opened with 74.

Where that pendulum has settled is a debate for the pollsters, but through two days at Quail Hollow it has been the “Lefty Love-fest,” perhaps a byproduct of the duo’s divergent play over the first 36 more so than an accurate straw poll. But it is unmistakable, here at NASCAR National public opinion is squarely on the left-handed Californian’s side.

Maybe not so coincidentally the divide began to widen at about the same time Mickelson began closing the gap competitively. There was always the notion that Mickelson needed his best stuff to take down Woods, and sometimes even that wasn’t enough. That theory has started to splinter thanks to Dave Stockton Sr. and victories at last year’s Tour Championship and WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

Mickelson’s Masters moment was the third consecutive victory for Lefty with Woods in the field, consider it a series sweep of the Yankees at the Stadium. And whatever Woods had in the tank at Augusta National was slow coming at Quail Hollow and for just the sixth time in 241 Tour starts as a pro he’ll watch the action from his Barcalounger at home following an unsightly 79 on Friday.

The most telling sign of a changing dichotomy came late Friday when Mickelson talked in relaxed tones of confidence and closing on the lead, while Woods talked about missing the cut.

Woods and Mickelson seem to have reached a curious crossroads together, one searching for his game and still in full damage control mode, the other no longer damaged by the ghosts of Winged Foot and seemingly in full control.

The gambler vs. the gamer, and there is no middle ground.

The softer side of Woods is trying. During Wednesday’s pro-am he was engaged with his partners and fans and signed autographs for 25 minutes. But if the new Tiger Woods is a work in progress, the old Phil Mickelson is the finished product.

On Friday on his way to a second-round 68, Mickelson shrugged and smiled and fist bumped his way around the leafy layout. On Thursday riding on fumes and pumped full of IV solution Lefty signed for 20 minutes after his media duties.

It’s a hearts and minds deal, be it by design or DNA, and it has fractured the body golf. The middle ground in golf has become all but extinct, like square grooves and stymies. Destroyed, it seems, by a rivalry that has never been better. That has never been this polarized.
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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.