On the Doorstep of History
Behold the sporting feats equally as monumental. Jones wins his eras grand slam. Owens runs to gold in Berlin. Dimaggio hits in 56 straight.
And now, Tiger Woods stands poised to hold all four major championship titles at the same time.
This is New York Times, front page news. It may be enough to revive what in these jaded days seems almost archaic, the ticker tape parade for that one single athlete. The true American hero.
And make no mistake, that is what we have here. A golfer so extraordinary as to be a dyed-in-the-wool Lindbergh, Jones, Owens and Dimaggio forever legend in Tiger Woods.
So Woods is perched on the doorstep of history. When, I ask you, has he failed to fully embrace it? All hes done is make history at every remarkable point of his singular career. As a teen, he won three straight U.S. Junior Ams followed by three straight U.S. Ams. Six in a row. Match play. Not a single loss for six straight years. Then he wins the Masters by a dozen. NBA games are won by 12, not major championships. O.K. sometimes theyre won by 15 shots. Thats right, he won the U.S. Open by 15. And that was his prelude to becoming the youngest to win the career slam at no less a spot than the birthplace of golf, St. Andrews. Bottom line, Tigers propensity for matching the moment is unparalleled in the annals of sport.
Interestingly, I appeared as a guest recently on a radio talk show and the host told me that his father, representative in his mind of the older generation, was reluctant to anoint Tiger at this point as the best ever. Its possible that people less willingly accept that which they cannot explain. And Tiger is so often beyond comprehension. Is Woods the most accomplished right now in terms of raw career numbers? Of course not, but only because he hasnt played long enough. Clearly if he stays healthy and at this current pace hell have all the meaningful records, like Jacks major mark and Sneads win total, by the time hes in his mid-30s. That said, even if Tiger stopped playing at this moment, hed likely still be regarded by most knowledgeable observers as the best ever. The reasons are fairly simple. No one whos ever hit it this long, has hit it this straight, this consistently while at the same time putting better than, say, Ben Crenshaw; competing psychologically like Jack Nicklaus; and displaying the sheer imaginative genius and daring that even swashbucklers like Seve and Arnie couldnt have duplicated in their own heydays. No one, but no one, has ever played golf the way Tiger does.
Most remarkable of all might be his ability to play at such a high level on such a consistent basis. Or perhaps its his complete mastery of fear and self doubt. Or maybe its his uncanny ability to so quickly turn trouble into outright triumph, as he did in Canada last year or Bay Hill this year. There seem to be no limits to how he can stupefy us.
And wouldnt it be great if all that stood between Woods and history was Augustas back side on Sunday? Its the best hold your breath stretch in golf. At number 12, when a player swings, we hold our breath for those three seconds or so until the ball lands and then we hear either the collective, Yes, if it lands safely, or the painful Ohhhh if it comes up short in Raes Creek. Same holds for the second into 13, as was the case with Duval last year, and the 15th, too. Three-shot deficits can be erased in a single hole on the back nine at Augusta.
Now beyond Tiger, its impossible to dismiss several contenders, notably Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson. Both possess all the requisite components needed to prevail, including length and touch, the latter being vastly improved in the case of Singh. Mickelson needs to avoid the unforced error and better harness his explosiveness. Both players have competed well on a consistent basis over the last three months.
But winning majors for those not named Tiger, it seems, has never been tougher because Tiger looks to be the best built major machine ever made. Are todays challengers not as strong as those who occasionally had their way with Nicklaus? Who do you like in the hypothetical, head to head, Trevino or Mickelson? Watson or Love? Or is Woods simply so good as to have ified challengers in a way that even Jack could not? Hard to know.
What we do know is that Tigers mantra all through his spellbinding journey has been to give himself a chance to win on Sunday afternoon. No one doubts that hell have that chance, as he so rarely fails to show up when it matters the most. However it happens-- in a runaway, in a down to the wire classic, or in gallant defeat--we await the historic trip with great, great eagerness.
What do you think of Tiger's chances to win the Masters and hold all four majors?
2327' target='_blank'> Share your thoughts!
Full Coverage of the 2001 Masters
Sergio can now 'relax and trust it' after Masters win
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Sergio Garcia says he didn’t let down his guard after winning the Masters and coast through the rest of the PGA Tour season.
If anything, he says, he burned more to win after claiming his first major championship title last spring.
“I was hungry or hungrier than I was before,” Garcia said while preparing for his first PGA Tour start of 2018 at the Honda Classic. “It doesn't change ... After the Masters, from The Players until probably the middle of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, I wanted to do well so badly.”
Garcia said his push to build on that Masters win probably caused him to be more erratic, trying to make things happen.
“That's why my game would be very good a couple of rounds, and then a couple of rounds not quite as good, for putting that extra pressure,” Garcia said. “And then when I started to kind of relax and say, ‘You know, just keep doing what you're doing, you're playing well, you're playing great, just trust it and keep at it.’ That's when things started coming along a little bit easier.”
That “relax and trust it” attitude helped Garcia win the Andalucia Valderrama Masters in the fall and the Singapore Open last month.
After 15 years with TaylorMade, Garcia agreed late last year to a new multi-year equipment deal with Callaway, to play their balls and equipment.
Garcia on making the transition: “It was very easy, I think, for a couple of reasons. One of them, I moved to a great company that makes great equipment, and second of all, usually, I get used to new equipment quite easily, even in my old brand. I used to be one of the first ones to change the new equipment.”
Garcia played the Chrome Soft X when he won in Singapore.
“It hasn't been a stressful move or anything like that,” Garcia said. “I really love the golf ball. I think the golf ball, for me, it's been a step forward from the past years.”
Win or not, this will be a big spring for Garcia. His wife, Angela, is expecting their first child in March.
For better or worse, golf attracting the mainstream crowd
A split second after Bubba Watson launched his tee shot at the par-4 10th hole on Sunday at Riviera Country Club the relative calm was shattered by one overly enthusiastic, and probably over-served, fan.
“Boom goes the dynamite!” the fan yelled.
Watson ignored the attention seeker, adhering to the notion it’s best not to make eye contact. But it’s becoming increasingly difficult to turn a deaf ear.
The last few weeks on the PGA Tour have been particularly raucous, first with the circuit’s annual stop at the “world’s largest outdoor cocktail party,” which is also known as the Waste Management Phoenix Open, and then last week in Los Angeles, where Tiger Woods was making his first start since 2006 and just his second of this season.
Fans crowded in five and six people deep along fairways and around greens to get a glimpse at the 14-time major champion, to cheer and, with increasing regularity, to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior at a golf tournament.
“I guess it's a part of it now, unfortunately. I wish it wasn't, I wish people didn't think it was so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we're trying to hit shots and play,” said Justin Thomas, who was grouped with Woods for the first two rounds at Riviera.
Although overzealous fans are becoming the norm, there’s a particularly rowdy element that has been drawn to the course by Woods’ return from injury. Even last month at Torrey Pines, which isn’t known as one of the Tour’s more boisterous stops, galleries were heard with increasing regularity.
But then Tiger has been dealing with chaotic crowds since he began rewriting the record books in the late-1990s, and it’s easy to dismiss the chorus of distractions. But it turns out that is as inaccurate as it is inconsiderate.
“It might have been like this the whole Tiger-mania and these dudes, but I swear, playing in front of all that, [Woods] gives up half a shot a day on the field,” reasoned Rory McIlroy, who was also grouped with Tiger for Rounds 1 and 2 last week. “It's two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that goes on around him. ... I need a couple Advil, I've got a headache after all that.”
There’s always been a price to pay for all of the attention that’s followed Woods’ every step, but McIlroy’s take offered new context. How many more events could Tiger have won if he had played in front of galleries that didn’t feel the need to scream the first thing that crossed their mind?
“It's cost me a lot of shots over the years. It's cost me a few tournaments here and there,” allowed Woods after missing the cut at Riviera. “I've dealt with it for a very long time.”
For Woods, the ubiquitous, “Get in the hole,” shriek has simply been an occupational hazard, the burden that he endured. What’s changed in recent years is that behavior has expanded beyond Tiger’s gallery.
While officials two weeks ago at the Waste Management Phoenix Open happily announced attendance records – 719,179 made their way to TPC Scottsdale for the week – players quietly lamented the atmosphere, specifically around the 16th hole that has become particularly harsh in recent years.
“I was a little disappointed in some of the stuff that was said and I don't want much negativity – the normal boos for missing a green, that's fine, but leave the heckling to a minimum and make it fun, support the guys out playing,” Rickie Fowler said following his second round at TPC Scottsdale.
What used to be an entertaining one-off in Phoenix is becoming standard fare, with players bracing for a similar atmosphere this week at PGA National’s 17th hole, and that’s not sitting well with the rank and file.
“I guess they just think it's funny. It might be funny to them, and obviously people think of it differently and I could just be overreacting, but when people are now starting to time it wrong and get in people's swings is just completely unacceptable really,” Thomas said in Los Angeles. “We're out here playing for a lot of money, a lot of points, and a lot of things can happen, and you would just hate to see in the future something happen down the line because of something like that.”
This issue reared its rowdy head at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah, and again two years ago at Hazeltine National. Combine thousands of patriotic fans with a cash bar and what you end up with is an atmosphere closer to Yankee Stadium in October than Augusta National in April.
It’s called mainstream sports, which golf has always aspired to until the raucous underbelly runs through the decorum stop signs that golf clings to.
This is not an endorsement or a justification for the “Mashed Potatoes” guy – Seriously, dude, what does that even mean? – and it seems just a matter of time before someone yells something at the wrong moment and costs a player a title.
But this is mainstream sports. It’s not pretty, it’s certainly not quiet and maybe it’s not for golf. But this is where the game now finds itself.
Nicklaus eager to help USGA rein in golf ball distance
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Jack Nicklaus heard words that warmed his heart over dinner Sunday with USGA executive director Mike Davis.
He said Davis pledged to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.
“I'm happy to help you,” Nicklaus told Davis. “I've only been yelling at you for 40 years.”
Nicklaus said he first confronted the USGA in 1977 over ball and distance issues.
In a meeting with reporters at the Honda Classic Tuesday, Nicklaus basically blamed the ball for the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to soaring costs to play the game.
Nicklaus brought up the ball when asked about slow play.
“The golf ball is the biggest culprit of that,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus said the great distance gains players enjoy today is stretching courses, and that’s slowing play. He singled out one company when asked about push back from manufacturers over proposals to roll back the distance balls can fly.
“You can start with Titleist,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus would like to see the USGA and R&A roll back the distance today’s ball flies by 20 percent. He said that would put driving distances back to what they were in the mid-‘90s, but he believes Titleist is the manufacturer most opposed to any roll back.
“Titleist controls the game,” Nicklaus said. “And I don't understand why Titleist would be against it. I know they are, but I don't understand why you would be against it. They make probably the best product. If they make the best product, whether it's 20 percent shorter ... What difference would it make? Their market share isn't going to change a bit. They are still going to dominate the game."
A Titleist representative declined to comment when reached by Golf Channel.
“For the good of the game, we need to play this game in about three-and-a-half hours on a daily basis," Nicklaus said. "All other sports on television and all other sports are played in three hours, usually three hours or less – except for a five-set tennis match – but all the other games are played in that.
“It's not about [Titleist]. It's about the people watching the game and the people that are paying the tab. The people paying the tab are the people that are buying that television time and buying all the things that happen out there. Those are the people that you've got to start to look out for.
“And the growth of the game of golf, it's not going to grow with the young kids. Young kids don't have five hours to play golf. Young kids want instant gratification.”
Davis said last month that increased distance is not "necessarily good for the game." R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers added earlier this month in relation to the same topic, "We have probably crossed that line."
Nicklaus said he would like to see golf courses and golf balls rated, so that different courses could be played with different rated balls. For example, a ball rolled back “70 percent” would fit courses rated for that ball. He said players could still play those courses with a 100 percent ball, but handicapping could be factored into the game so players could compete using differently rated balls.
“And so then if a guy wants to play with a 90 or 100 percent golf ball, it makes it shorter and faster for him to play,” Nicklaus said.
Nicklaus believes rating balls like that would make shorter courses more playable again. He believes creating differently rated balls would also make more money for ball manufacturers.
“Then you don't have any obsolete golf courses.” Nicklaus said. “Right now we only have one golf course that's not obsolete, as I said earlier [Augusta National], in my opinion.”
Nicklaus said Davis seemed to like the rated ball idea.
“The USGA was all over that, incidentally,” Nicklaus said.
Sponsored: Callaway's Chrome Soft, from creation to the course
Those boxes of Callaway Chrome Soft and Chrome Soft X golf balls that you see on the shelf orignated somewhere. But where? The answer is Chicopee, Mass., a former Spalding golf ball plant that Callaway Golf purchased 15 years ago.
The plant was built in 1915 for manufacturing automobiles, and was converted to make ballistics during WWII. Currently, it makes some of the finest golf balls in the industry.
Eventually, those balls will be put into play by both professionals and amateurs. But the journey, from creation to the course, is an intriguing one.
In this Flow Motion video, Callaway Golf shows you in creative fashion what it's like for these balls to be made and played. Check it out!