I Still Love Golf

By Rex HoggardMarch 25, 2009, 4:00 pm
ORLANDO, Fla. ' A photo op, a quick exchange, a snapshot in time. Past, present and future crisscrossed in real time on a warm March morning on this former Orange grove, a convergence of the absolute best golf has to offer sailing through common waters.
The best Wednesday on Tour after the madness of the opening round of the WGC-Match Play and, arguably, the Par 3 Contest at the Masters, was even better this year thanks to a confluence of generations.
Arnold Palmer held his traditional court on the eve of his tournament, a cant-miss event for those who carry notebooks for a living or anyone with even a passing interest in the timelessness of golf. In these troubled economic times, Charles Schwab may not pull a crowd like he used to, but Palmers scrums still demand full attention because of his honesty and his history.
Seven decades immersed in the game give The King license to address, well, whatever he wants, and on Wednesday he was at his thoughtful best.
Palmers endearing style should give all 120 Tour players gathered for his annual soiree reason to pause. A day earlier, Rocco Mediate said it probably makes Palmer nauseous that the Tour is coaching younger members on how to treat pro-am and corporate partners. In Palmers day, schmoozing 101 was part and parcel of the professional package. You dont build an army hidden behind competitive blinders and stoic wraparound sun glasses.
When asked about Mediates comments, Palmer strayed down a slightly more diplomatic path, but his message remained vividly on point.
I would say that they need to understand more about what the Tour is all about, how it got to be where it is and my advice would be to take a good long look and then maybe realize that it didnt just happen, Palmer said. It would pay for the young people to take a look at that and maybe realize a little more about how valuable what they have is.
As the golf world braces for economic reality and handwringing reaches new heights, Palmer also took a moment to put the financial downtown into some much-needed historical perspective.
The world doesnt stop, it keeps going, Palmer said. I was born in the depression, I was raised in the depression and its going to go on. The economy is bad, sure. But we talk too much about it.
Palmer is the grandfather we all wish we had ' stocked full of more wisdom and experience than the Library of Congress with a delivery that makes even the harshest truth somehow palatable.
Its a shame that few of the players gathered at Bay Hill took Palmers lessons to heart, but maybe its more important that at least two of the most important competitors on property took time to listen.
Before Palmer addressed the media, he met with Japanese wunderkind Ryo Ishikawa. The Bashful Prince has been dubbed, perhaps prematurely, the next best thing. Comparisons to Tiger Woods and Palmer and Jack Nicklaus have rained down like practice golf balls at Vijay Singhs range, and it is a telling sign of the times that Palmer and Woods have become the voice of reason.
You dont want to miss those years, because obviously hes not going to go to college, hes not going to experience life, Woods offered when asked about Ishikawa. Now hes in basically the fishbowl, and a lot of people are going to be tugging at him, and I hope he can enjoy being a teen.
Lets hope Ishikawa has a translator that can keep up with Woods, who, despite his considerable on-course success has taken some time to become comfortable in his own skin both on and off the golf course.
Woods won 14 major championships before fate called an intermission last June and it would have been easy to see his competitive edge eating at him during his extended break. Instead, Woods seems to have emerged from his hiatus better, if not at the business of winning golf tournaments and penning legacies than at least at living.
When I first came out here it was all golf. I didnt have the balance in my life at the time that I do now, Woods said. Im still going to make mistakes, but I think that understanding responsibilities, understanding a life changes, and its changed for the better.
Woods will never be confused for Palmer in his prime, although the world No. 1 does seem to have softened in recent years as his family and his legacy has grown. The man Palmer calls Ta-gre engages the masses with his will and his talent, whereas Palmers cache seemed to be a combination of tenacity and everyman moxie.
Late last year one could almost hear an echo of Palmer in Woods words when he spoke about life after golf. His knee surgery had forced Woods to acknowledge his own professional immortality, never an easy epiphany particularly for the best of a generation, perhaps all time.
When my best is not good enough, I'm not going to be out here competing. I certainly understand that more so now than ever before, Woods said last December.
On Wednesday, with old, new and everything in between in attendance, Palmer seemed to consider his competitive sunset when he was asked about the state of his game. Rocked back in his chair, distanced from the microphone for a moment, Palmers eyes narrowed and a playful smile inched across his face.
Well, I really know what its like to have a fun game, because it sure as hell doesnt have anything to do with playing the game of golf, Palmer said. I play here in the shootout and most of these guys . . . they all beat me. And I hate it. But I still love golf.
For a brief moment, golfs past, present and future all seemed connected by a single, simple theme.
Related Links:
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  • Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

    By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

    Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

    Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

    "He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

    The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

    Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

    "I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

    Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

    "From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

    "And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

    "There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

    Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

    Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

    Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

    Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

    With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

    Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

    “It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

    Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

    Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

    "It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

    Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

    Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

    Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

    Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

    “I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

    As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

    By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

    Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

    With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

    That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

    That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

    And that’s a magic word in golf.

    There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

    Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

    The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

    Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

    Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

    A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

    The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

    Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

    For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

    The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

    The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

    It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

    “The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

    And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

    “It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

    The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

    Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

    The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

    Parity was the story this year.

    Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

    Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

    The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

    The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

    “I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

    If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

    Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

    There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

    This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

    Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

    Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

    She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

    The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.