A Cruel and Beautiful Game
Editor's Note: This is the second of a special, three-part Lerner's Journal, as Rich recounts his recent road trip covering the Masters, the Hootie & the Blowfish tournament and the LPGA in Las Vegas. Read part one, 'The King and His Scribes', here.
I left the Golf Writers of America banquet in Myrtle Beach Sunday night at 11, drove two and a half hours to Columbia, rested for five, then slid into Augusta Nationals muddy parking lot off Washington Road at about 8:30 Monday morning.
The rain was pelting. The skies were different shades of dark'like all the smoke stacks had conspired to choke off any chance of sunlight. It was a no-hope-for-a-nice-day look. In the car, I took a few minutes to brace myself for the elements. I put the rain suit on.
I didnt take it off until Friday.
Black is in. Up and down the range all week at the Masters, I saw little but a phalanx of black rain suits, some of the models so tailored and slick you couldve worn them to a wedding at the Waldorf.
At last, we got our first look at Larry Mizes striped shirt on Saturday. The suits discarded, it was warm, sunny and it felt good to be alive. It felt good to be free of rain.
By Sunday, all focus shifted to two men, Len Mattiace and Mike Weir. All the talk of weather, Martha Burk, Hootie Johnson, even Tiger Woods, simply dissipated like the morning dew.
On a sunny and truly spectacular spring day, the Masters returned in all its splendor. There was a meaningful second nine eagle - Mattiaces at 13.
There was a clutch birdie at 16 - Mattiace again.
There was a gallant response to Mattiaces own heroics - by mighty Mike Weir.
His par putt at the 72nd was the definition of clutch - no time left, your teams down by two, youre at the line in front of 20,000 plus, millions more on TV, and anything less than both free throws and you lose.
Of course he poured it in. As he did pretty much everything he looked at all week. Weir going putt-for-putt with Mattiace on Augustas greens with the jacket on the line was like watching Greg Maddux in his prime tangle with Pedro Martinez in a 1-0, nine-inning, no-reliever pitchers duel. More fine art than raw power.
Now Weirs the early leader for Player of the Year, based on quality and quantity of wins. For sheer numbers hes tied with Davis and Tiger. But his 72nd-hole gut check at Augusta was the moment of the year.
Just as vivid as Weirs 72nd-hole putt is the image of Mattiace, crying before the cameras. The 2003 Masters that opened with the skies pouring closed with water of a more visceral nature, the tears of an emotionally exhausted professional.
Golf can be cruel sometimes. The man just shot 65, and on that course and under that kind of Sunday major championship pressure, that should be reason to rejoice. But when the game demands that you be better than 65 on Sunday at the Masters, and you do all you can to meet that brutally difficult standard and you fall just short, it must bewell something with which most of us just arent familiar. And so Len had himself a good cry. Rare when athletes open themselves up that honestly.
The lesson of Len Mattiace at the 2003 Masters is that golf asks much at that level. It gives much, too. I knew that when I saw Mike Weir several hours later, dressed in the green jacket inside the clubhouse, embracing his loved ones.
Tomorrow, Rich heads back to Myrtle Beach for some laughs at The Hootie and The Blowfish Celebrity Pro Am, then heads to Vegas with the LPGA
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.