Tough start for McIlroy in Nike debut

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2013, 5:04 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – “It was not pretty,” the square-shouldered Nike Golf convert admits with little prompting.

Some would even say the transition was painful. Rounds of 75-74 to miss the cut in a player’s debut with a new equipment company always seems to create more anxiety however unfair the need for instant analysis may be.

No, said Swoosh staffer wasn’t Rory McIlroy – whose first week with Nike gear at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship has been dubbed a bust by many in the media, social or otherwise, following rounds of 75-75 to miss the cut.

The Nike player in question was Paul Casey, who in 2005 made the same jump from Titleist to Nike Golf with eerily similar results to McIlroy, save for the worldwide scrutiny that descended on the Northern Irishman following his short week in the Middle East.

“He’s going to get more (scrutiny), isn’t he? He’s going to get way more,” Casey said on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. “It just takes a little bit of time, that’s all. I’ll admit that I’m playing a new driver that I put in play at the end of last year, and I’m still not quite 100 percent flat out as comfortable as I used to be with my previous driver.”

For those who have endured a similar honeymoon with new equipment, the pointed discourse that followed McIlroy’s Middle East miscue is baffling, many pointing out it takes weeks, if not months, to find a comfort level regardless of the company or the player.

Tiger Woods, for example, took the better part of a decade to work his way into a full bag of Nike clubs, with the final piece (the putter) coming at the 2010 British Open.

“It takes two or three months until you’re there,” said Casey, who signed with Nike in 2005 and quickly points out he won in his first season with the new clubs (Volvo China Open). “It takes thousands of golf balls to know what that thing is going to do. I mean we are dealing with fractions. You get the clubface out by one degree, it’s whoosh ... ”

There was a lot of that on Days 1 and 2 in Abu Dhabi for McIlroy, who connected with just 13 of 28 fairways.

Although the frenzied focus was on McIlroy’s switch back to his old Titleist Scotty Cameron putter in Round 2, his post-round comments on Friday suggest he is more concerned with finding a driver that is to his liking.

“Really happy with the ball and the wedges. Putter is good on fast greens that I've practiced on, and I just need to probably find a driver that I'm comfortable with, because I didn't drive the ball at all well,” McIlroy said.

And that, any Tour type will tell you, takes time both on the practice tee and under the gun in tournament play.

“The last time I switched irons (2010), I can remember taking the irons out to AT&T (Pebble Beach National Pro-Am), and I was like, ‘These things aren’t going,’ and then three months later I was like, ‘These things go too far,’” Padraig Harrington said.

“We tend to get caught up how things are performing in an individual week. You need to have a big long stretch to test something. You want a period of time, two or three months, to understand your equipment.”

It’s also worth noting that McIlroy was hardly the only player to make a wholesale equipment change in 2013, although his status as the world’s top-ranked golfer and the rock-show like announcement on Monday in Abu Dhabi at least partially explains the hyper scrutiny.

Nick Watney and Kyle Stanley both switched to Nike Golf this year with similarly mixed results. Watney tied for 13th in his debut at the wind-shortened Hyundai Tournament of Champions, while Stanley struggled to rounds of 78-80-72 and finished 30th out of the 30-man field in Kapalua.

At the other end of the extreme makeover matrix is Thorbjorn Olesen, who was a respectable T-31 in his debut at last week’s Volvo Golf Champions and is tied for second through 45 holes in Abu Dhabi.

“I had a week last week (Volvo Golf Champions), and I think that helped me to learn about the irons and the ball. It helped a lot,” said Olesen, who began testing his new Nike gear late last year.

For McIlroy, his transition was always going to be a trial by fire, and with four weeks before his next start (WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship), the drumbeat of doubt promises not to subside any time soon.

Abu Dhabi was, Casey figured, always going to be a no-win situation without a win for the Ulsterman, the unrealistic way of an on-demand world. It’s a reality the Englishman is well aware of having missed the weekend in seven of his first eight PGA Tour starts with the Swoosh in 2005.

“If he didn’t win, I felt like he was going to get some kind of question. It didn’t matter what he did,” Casey said. “He’ll be absolutely fine.

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)

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Wie's goal to reach goals: Just. Stay. Healthy.

By Randall MellJanuary 23, 2018, 3:30 pm

Michelle Wie’s player bio should come with medical charts.

Her caddie would be well served if he could read X-rays as well as he reads greens.

Remarkably, Wie will begin her 13th full season as a pro when she tees it up Thursday in the LPGA’s season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic.

Wie is only 28, but on some days, she must feel like she’s going on 40.

It isn’t the years, it’s the mileage. Her body has too often been like an exotic sports car, a sleek and powerful machine capable of thrilling rides ... when it isn’t sitting it in the shop for weeks for repairs. There’s been one breakdown after another, spoiling her rides.

That’s why one burning desire trumps all others for Wie as she begins this new year.

“Being healthy, staying healthy, it’s my No. 1 priority,” Wie told “I hired private physios at the end of last year, to work on my body. I’ve been working with my doctors in New York, and they’ve been doing a great job of getting me to a place where I’m pain free.

“For the most part, I’m feeling pretty good and pretty healthy. I’ve got little aches and pains from hitting so many balls over the years, but I’m really excited about starting this year. I feel really driven this year. I just want to be healthy so I can build some momentum and be able to play at 100 percent.”

Wie would love to see what she can do in an injury-free, illness-free year after all the promising work she put into rebuilding her game last year. She seemed on the brink of something special again.

“We worked last week, and Michelle looked really, really good,” said David Leadbetter, her swing coach. “It’s quite impressive the way she’s hitting the ball. She is hitting it long and feeling good about her game. So, the main goal really is to see if she can go injury free.”

After winning twice in 2014, including the U.S. Women’s Open, Wie battled through a troublesome finger injury in the second half of that year. Hip, knee and ankle injuries followed the next year. She didn’t just lose all her good momentum. She lost the swing she grooved.

Wie rebuilt it all last year, turning her draw into a dependable fade that allowed her to play more aggressively again. She loved being able to go hard at the ball again, without fearing where it might go. The confidence from that filtered into every part of her game. She started hitting more drivers again.

And Wie found yet another eccentric but effective putting method, abandoning her table-top putting stance for a rotating trio of grips (conventional, left-hand low and claw). She would use them all in a single round. It was weird science, but it worked as she moved to a more classic, upright stance.

“It’s not pretty, but it’s working,” Stacy Lewis said after playing with Wie at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship last summer.

Wie said she’s going back and forth between conventional and left-hand low now.

“I can’t promise I’ll stay the same way all year,” Wie said. “But even with different grips, I stayed with the same putting philosophy all year. I want to keep doing that.”

Leadbetter calls Wie a rebel in her approach to the game. She’s a power player, but she carried a 9-wood and 11-wood last year. She says the 11-wood will be back in her bag this week. Her unorthodox ways go beyond technique, strategy and equipment. She’ll be sporting pink hair come Thursday.

“She has never been orthodox,” Leadbetter said. “She doesn’t like to conform. She’s always liked to buck the system in some way.”

Wie looked as if she were poised to make a run at her fifth career title last season. She logged six finishes of fourth place or better the first half of the year. She contended at the ANA Inspiration, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and the Ricoh Women’s British Open.

And then a neck spasm knocked her out of the U.S. Women’s Open.

And then emergency appendectomy surgery knocked her out for six weeks at summer’s end. It kept her from playing the year’s final major, the Evian Championship.

“I can’t list all the injuries Michelle has had in her career,” Leadbetter said. “I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue.”

Over the last three seasons alone, Wie has played through bursitis in her left hip, a bone spur in her left foot and inflammation in her left knee. She has battled neck spasms and back spasms. There have been platelet rich plasma injections to aid healing, and there have been too many cortisone injections for her liking.

There also have been ongoing issues in both wrists.

In fact, Wie, who broke two bones in her left wrist early in her career, is dealing with arthritic issues in both wrists of late. She underwent collagen injections this off season to try to be more pain free.

“I’ve had to pull back the last couple years, restrict the number of balls I hit, not practice as much as I would like, but I was able to put in a lot of work this offseason,” Wie said. “I’m excited about this year, but I’ve been smart about things.”

Leadbetter says he has been focusing on injury prevention when working with Wie. He worries about the stress that all the torque she creates can have on her body, with her powerful coil and the way she sometimes likes to hold off shots with her finish. His work, sometimes, is pulling her back from the tinkering she loves to do.

“Everything we do with her swing now is to help prevent injury,” he said.

Leadbetter relishes seeing what’s possible in 2018 if there are no setbacks.

“Michelle would be the first to admit she hasn’t reached anywhere near her potential,” Leadbetter said. “We all know what she is capable of. We’ve had fleeting glimpses. Now, it’s a matter of, ‘OK, let’s see if we can really fulfill the potential she’s had from a very young age.’

“She’s really enthusiastic about this year. She can’t wait to get back in the mix.”