2001 PGA Tour Retrospective Part 2
David Duval thankfully left the best-to-never-win-a-major troupe, a not-so-merry band of brothers now led by Phil Mickelson. Duval figures in his mind that, conservatively, he's let at least two Green Jackets slip right through his hands. He's frequently listed as a contender at any venue that favors a power player, which he most definitely is.
That's why his British Open win at Lytham was so impressive. Lytham was not a haven for the homerun hitter, but rather a devlish mousetrap which put a premium on discipline, accuracy and the ability to avoid the unforced error. In other words, the kind of steadfast approach which wins majors, an approach Phil Mickelson has yet to completely grasp.
Mickelson's propensity to miss short putts of consequence severely hurt his chances at Augusta, the U.S. Open and to a lesser degree, the PGA Championship. The PGA at Atlanta Athletic Club appeared to offer the best chance at a breakthrough. But when David Toms produced a spectacular ace on Saturday and then enough smarts to go clinical rather than emotional on his 18th-hole decision to lay up, well, you sort of sensed a minor onset of Normanitis for Phil Mickelon. Someone always seems to be there to spoil the party.
And yet, you must acknowledge not only Mickelson's rare talent, but more so, his consistent presence in the heat of damn near every great drama 2001 brought us in golf. His driver off the deck at Pebble ended up on an Alaskan cruise ship, setting off another round of criticism of Mickelson's decision-making. Why, many wondered, would one of the supposed best short-game practitioners not like his own chances of making birdie from short range at the famous par-5 18th? A driver off the deck with the ocean left?
Soon after Pebble, Mickelson's playoff with Frank Lickliter down the coast in San Diego became a comedy of errors. Lefty won with, of all things, a double bogey.
Later, he was front and center at Bay Hill, Augusta, Colonial, New Orleans, Southern Hills, Hartford and, of course, the PGA Championship. Mickelson faltered at Colonial and New Orleans, but credit, too, goes to Sergio, who crafted a brilliant 63 in Fort Worth, and David Toms, who gave a jacked-up home crowd on the bayou a rollicking round of 64. At the PGA Championship, Mickelson shot four consecutive 66s and simply got beat. No shame in that, certainly. With 10 top-three finishes, Mickelson legitimately contends on a level matched for consistency really only by Woods.
He is, in a way, a bit like the St. Louis Rams of the NFL in that there just aren't many teams nearly as explosive as the Rams, who lose only when they turn the ball over and beat themselves. If Mickelson can limit HIS turnovers, his skill level is such that he could go on a tremendous run.
Meanwhile, David Toms didn't warrant comparison with the likes of Mickelson at the start of 2001. He does now, at least when you're picking favorites for majors. To the golf public at large, Toms was the breakthrough star of the year. But to his peers, he's no surprise. The book on Toms is simple: very solid. And very solid wins you your share of tournaments.
Toms has few weaknesses. He carries himself with an impressive blend of quiet confidence, class and diginity. Could Toms end up with a career record better than, say, more ballyhooed stars such as Davis Love, Fred Couples or Tom Lehman? I think it's conceivable. But one great season does not make it so. As is the case with Mickelson, it'll be interesting to follow Toms in the critical several years ahead (critical in terms of how they'll ultimately be judged as golfers).
One fact remains irrefutable. David Toms in 2001 responded magnificently on two different Sundays--in New Orleans before a wild, gumbo-flavored, home-brewed gallery that raised the noise to NFL levels; and in Atlanta, where he made a perfectly sound decision to set up a cunning, game-winning par at the 72nd hole. Toms, we learned this year, is no Sunday wallflower.
Sergio's worth deeper examination, too, now that he silenced some critics with wins on two superb shotmakers' courses - Colonial and Westchester. Remember, he's just 21. And he's extraordinarily polished. To be sure, there are still doubters. He should consider cutting down on the number of pre-shot pumps that made watching him at the U.S. Open so terribly difficult.
And while I'm not expert enough in the mechanics to pass final judgment, there are still some who question whether or not his buggy-whip swing will hold up over the long haul, as well as under the extreme pressure of a major. I tend to believe at this point that victories at 21 at Colonial and Westchester are plenty of proof that we're looking at a player who should evolve into a several-time major champion.
The year 2001 will also be remembered for what 17-year-old Ty Tryon accomplished. In December, after he'd earned his PGA Tour card, Tryon innocuously revealed to me his projected early schedule for 2002, checking off venues like Doral and Honda and Bay Hill. On he went, and moments later I laughed to myself, thinking, this is a HIGH SCHOOL JUNIOR, for crying out loud, talking about Doral and BAY HILL! One pro quipped to me that when he was 17 all he thought about was whose parents were out of town and when was the party going to begin!
The Tryon case is intriguing because he's perhaps the first of a new generation of highly trained, better-built golfers who spend more time in the body shop fine-tuning than they do on the open roads of junior and amateur golf tournaments learning by trial and error. Tryon had his moments, but he did not put together an overwhelming, Tiger-like amateur golf resume. He basically skipped several levels of tournament golf on his way to the PGA Tour. And frankly, it was a bit unnerving to watch a guy so young and with very little track record almost effortlessly go 10-under alongside the likes of Tom Lehman at Honda, and then later shoot a 65 to co-lead on Day 1 at The B.C. Open.
Then again, Tryon's long had a personal trainer and has worked with mental coaches for years. He's sculpted his textbook swing under the tutelage of the master maker of better young golfers, David Leadbetter. So it's hard to imagine there won't be more to follow and that hopeful fathers aren't lined up outside Leadbetter's sparkling new academy near Orlando.
The following you'd have to figure are also looking back on 2001 favorably: Chris DiMarco, Scott Hoch, Scott Verplank, Paul Azinger, Jose Coceres, Shigeki Maruyama, Brad Faxon, Retief Goosen, John Cook, Charles Howell and Bob Estes. No doubt there were others who achieved personal goals, whether it was top 30 or top 125. The following, though in overall terms highly successful, might be looking back at 2001 less than favorably: Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Carlos Franco, to name a few.
Davis Love going sub-30 on Pebble's front side, Robert Allenby's metal-wood dart to win the Riviera playoff and Robert Damron's OT thriller at the Byron will also be remembered when one looks back at the season past (Tiger's exploits were detailed in Part 1 of this season's review).
Finally, I'm glad we have the last two weeks of the year off. The PGA Tour trail is a long one, though each new year the road ahead begins with as much promise as ever. I don't doubt that as a fan you'll be out there following the triumphs and travails of those who travel that winding path to glory.
Have a peaceful holiday season and a happy, healthy New Year.
Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener
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.''
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?''
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
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:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
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.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
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.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
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.”
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.