International side needs a game changer for a captain

By Rex HoggardOctober 14, 2009, 8:44 pm

Late last Sunday in the NorCal gloom captains Fred Couples and Greg Norman addressed what some in the press corps consider a foregone conclusion – an encore performance 23 months from now in Australia’s sand belt.

For Couples, the chance to score America’s first outright victory south of the Equator is as compelling as any reason to keep the text messaging lines open with Camp Ponte Vedra Beach, to say nothing of another all-access week hanging with Michael Jordan.

“Hell, yeah, I would do it again. Would I be picked again? I have no idea, but I certainly wouldn't turn it down,” said Couples, who padded an already impressive Presidents Cup record (9-5-2 as a player) with Sunday’s 19 ½ to 14 ½ rout of the “Rest of the World.” “(This was) way better than any golf tournament, ever. It was that much fun.”

And why wouldn’t Boom Boom be amenable to a sequel? He’s got a Tiger Woods/Steve Stricker pairing that swept the team frame and Phil Mickelson who looked as if he could have paired with Jordan for a point last week.

In baseball parlance, American captains now have two staff aces and a five-game series – good odds against an off-form International team or the Bronx Bombers.

Norman’s return trip to the skipper’s chair, however, is not so obvious.

The Australian seemed willing following last week’s matches and sentimentality would favor another Shark sighting in 2011 at Royal Melbourne, where he is a member. But can Presidents Cup officials continue to dole out honorary captaincies for an event that is in desperate need of some competitive parity?

With a few notable exceptions – Tim Clark, Ryo Ishikawa and Ernie Els – the World squad debunked the most worn-out cliché in all of sports. Turns out there is an “I” in team, at least for the International squad.

Robert Allenby blamed Anthony Kim’s social life, the crowds, the 49ers’ pedestrian defense and San Francisco’s marine layer, everything except his own play, for his dismal Sunday showing.

Els claimed it is geography that has landed the International side in a 1-6-1 hole at the odd-year matches, noting that the world side is undefeated in the two matches (Australia and South Africa) played outside the friendly confines of North America.

Yet both players seemed to miss the Great White Elephant, eh . . . Shark, in the room.

Maybe Sunday’s outcome was inevitable given the current form of the World side. Maybe Woods and Stricker and Mickelson were three haymakers too much. Or maybe Norman was too concerned with his wine business and a pending divorce and a faulty cell phone to make a difference.

They say captains – be they of the Ryder, Presidents or Walker cup variety – are like football coaches: too much blame when a team loses and too much credit when they win.

But recent history suggests a creative and determined captain can be a game changer. Paul Azinger was at Valhalla, Ian Woosnam was at the 2006 Ryder Cup and Couples was last week.

Azinger never hit a shot at Valhalla, but he created an air of invincibility among 12 Americans at an event that had gone to the European side in five of the six previous matches. And he did it without Woods, no less. Ditto for Woosnam in Ireland, where he rallied the team behind Darren Clarke with an “us against them” battle cry.

Although Couples’ captaincy was much different from either Azinger or Woosnam, it created a carefree atmosphere that encouraged players to embrace the pressure of these international gatherings, not hide from it.

Jordan's presence in the team room was criticized by some, yet his impact on the overall product was undeniable. For four days 12 independent contractors moved as one, not easily accomplished particularly with competing personalities that don’t always mesh.

“One of the things that I hear all the time is that the U.S. team is not a team. You know, and the one thing that I saw from Day 1 that I walked into this is that these guys get along. They are more or less a team than even in my professional sport,” Jordan said. “When guys don't win and other guys do win, it's not about wearing it on their sleeves or rubbing it in their face. It's about bringing that guy up.”

Word on the Harding Park street was the International team room was every bit as loose as the U.S. cabin. They had a Ping-Pong table, Wii, and all manner of adult beverages. Yet something was missing that goes beyond the International’s hammer-handed play in foursomes.

With the talent margins so thin between the teams at the Presidents and Ryder cups, captains are increasingly becoming the game changers. Gone are the days when a figurehead can toss out golf balls and announce, “Play hard boys.”

Els said it’s time for the Internationals to “go back to the drawing board.” In practical terms that means a captain who will color outside the lines in search of victory.

Among the short list of possible International game changers is Ian Baker-Finch, a four-time assistant captain, and Frank Nobilo, Norman’s No. 2 last week. In the name of full disclosure, Nobilo is a Golf Channel colleague, yet his day job has nothing to do with his ability to captain.

For much of the week Norman conceded the ability to give advice to Nobilo; the New Zealander knows the players and their games and has a mind that plays faster than Rory Sabbatini.

Of course, if the Tour is only interested in moral victories, Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin will probably be available by then.

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Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test

By Will GrayDecember 12, 2017, 11:30 pm

One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.

Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.

"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."

Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.

"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.

Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.

"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

Masters victory

Article: Garcia defeats Rose to win Masters playoff

Article: Finally at peace: Garcia makes major breakthrough

Article: Garcia redeems career, creates new narrative

Video: See the putt that made Sergio a major champ

Green jacket tour

Article: Take a look at Sergio's crazy, hectic media tour

Article: Garcia with fiancée, green jacket at Wimbledon

Article: Watch: Garcia kicks off El Clasico in green jacket

Man of the people

Article: SERGIO! Garcia finally gets patrons on his side

Article: Fan finally caddies for Sergio after asking 206 times

Article: Sergio donates money for Texas flood relief

Article: Connelly, Garcia paired years after photo together

Ace at 17th at Sawgrass

Growing family

Article: Sergio, Angela get married; Kenny G plays reception

Article: Garcia, wife expecting first child in March 2018

Departure from TaylorMade

Article: Masters champ Garcia splits with TaylorMade

Squashed beef with Paddy

Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

Article: Sergio, Padraig had 'great talk,' are 'fine'

Victory at Valderrama

Article: Garcia gets first win since Masters at Valderrama

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm