Much More Than A First Time Winner
Really? We pretend to know whats inside an athlete, what makes him go, but we truly know so very little. Most of the athletically gifted'and thats pretty much all who play any sport professionally'closely guard their inner feelings. We know only what we see.
I saw Len Mattiace in the San Jose Airport two weeks ago on our way home from Pebble Beach. His young daughter alternately cuddled with Mom and bounded into our conversation, where shed be gleefully scooped up by her father. Len and I chatted about the chase for more distance, how everyones tinkering, searching and scratching for a new shaft or ball or head just to tack on a few more dizzying yards in the modern homerun derby that is professional golf.
Len was in the pack of hungry dogs still fighting to taste victorys prime cut. A decade of scraps didnt dull the desire, though, because Len rejoiced in just being around the dinner table.
I love this game, he told me simply. A short time later hed get on a plane and go to the next stop. Still winless. Still resolute in the quest.
I saw a nice, decent man. But knowing so often only what we see, I didnt yet see a champion.
Sunday at Riviera, 13 days removed from our encounter at Gate 73, I saw Len Mattiace break down and cry streams of tears before a roomful of people. In an interview I did with Len for Inside The PGA Tour, I asked him how his mother, Joyce, a victim of cancer in 1998, would have reacted at his long-time-in-the-making first Tour win. Hed addressed a similar query in his post victory press conference with 20 or so writers. He spoke lovingly, but remained composed.
Finally, the champion of the Nissan Open could hold back no longer. I always feel like shes with me, he sobbed. Im very thankful and lucky to have had her. And the tears fell, one after the other. Ive never heard a press area so quiet.
Joyce Mattiace died three months after she watched her son at The 1998 Players Championship. There, in the final round, Len stood tied momentarily at the jittery 17th hole with Justin Leonard. He made a clean, bold pass at the high iron and the shot looked to be true. But hed caught it too flush, and the ball bounded long into the water. Before the gasp from the gallery had even finished echoing, Len teed up another and found the bunker. From there he found the water once more.
Hed made an eight on the penultimate hole of what could have been his greatest moment. Television didnt miss a single, painful second. With his dying mother watching from a wheelchair, a very powerful, bittersweet and profoundly human drama had played out for so many to see.
That spring day four years ago, we did get more than a glimpse of Len Mattiace. We saw a man handle fates cruel blow with dignity. There was a fundamental niceness to him, with pleasing features and an easy smile to go along a slender, unthreatening build, like Jimmy Stewart.
Unfortunately, sports being what it is, Len would disappear to a degree, only in the sense that he failed to consistently contend after The Players. So he simply fell from our consciousness. It happens all too frequently.
And so when Len finally stepped out of that pack to win at Hogans Alley, I wondered how many people truly remembered the measure of the man we saw at Ponte Vedre. Or would he be viewed as just another first time winner, a relatively non-descript journeyman whod be quickly forgotten? I thought about our encounter at the airport just two weeks prior. And then, long after CBS had signed off, he broke down.
My wife and I talk about how if we can just be half the parent that my mother was, he said haltingly, wed be grateful.
Now I saw much more than a golfing champion. In a world where we really know so little about those whose exploits we cover and watch as fans, it was a startling and breathtaking moment on The PGA Tour.
Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same
AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.
According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.
The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.
The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.
Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption
Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.
The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.
"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."
Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.
Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.
Notah: Driver is Tiger's No. 1 pre-Masters concern
Tiger Woods mounted a Sunday charge at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, sending shockwaves through Bay Hill when it looked as though he might finally claim PGA Tour victory No. 80.
But the charge came to an end at the par-5 16th, where Woods had missed wide-right three days in a row before going OB-left on Sunday en route to bogey.
Woods’ API performance featured just a handful of drivers each day, as firm and fast conditions allowed him to make frequent use of a 2-iron off the tee.
That strategy led to a second top-5 finish in as many weeks, but if Woods wants to win again, if he wants claim another major, he is going to sort out his issues with the big stick.
A guest Monday morning on the Dan Patrick Show, Golf Channel’s Notah Begay believes the driver will be a focus for Woods in his pre-Masters preparation.
“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver. … Any time he has to turn a shot right to left with trouble on the left, he struggles a little bit,” Begay said.
“Off the sixth tee, off the ninth tee, there was some errant shots. And then we saw the really horrible tee shot yesterday at 16. He talked about in the post-round comments. He just didn’t commit to a shot, and the worst thing that a professional athlete can do to themselves to compromise performance is not commit.
“And so he made a terrible swing, and that’s the miss that is really difficult for him to recover from, because the majority of his misses are out to the right. So, when you eliminate one half of the golf course, you can really make your way around … a lot easier. When you have a two-way miss going, which sometimes creeps into his driver, it really makes it difficult to take out some of the trouble that you’re looking at when you’re standing on the tee box.
“So he has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”
McIlroy trails only Woods in Masters betting odds
After rallying for victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Rory McIlroy is once again among the betting favorites for the upcoming Masters.
McIlroy was available at 16/1 at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook last week, listed behind six other players. But after his three-shot win at Bay Hill, his odds were trimmed to 10/1, leaving him behind only betting favorite Tiger Woods.
Next month will mark McIlroy's fourth opportunity to close out the final leg of the career Grand Slam by slipping into a green jacket. Here's a look at the current betting odds, with the first round only 17 days away:
8/1: Tiger Woods
10/1: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas
14/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose
16/1: Jason Day, Jon Rahm
18/1: Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson
25/1: Paul Casey, Bubba Watson
30/1: Sergio Garcia, Tommy Fleetwood, Hideki Matsuyama
40/1: Henrik Stenson, Marc Leishman
50/1: Alex Noren
60/1: Matt Kuchar, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Tyrrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters
80/1: Branden Grace, Brian Harman, Tony Finau, Charley Hoffman, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Cantlay
100/1: Zach Johnson, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner