A Noisy Year In Golf
Hootie and Martha shouted across the nations sports pages. Bethpages U.S. Open reverberated louder than a Giants/Eagles game in late December.
People screamed at Curtis Strange. Catrin Nilsmark blasted the U.S. Solheim Cuppers. And plenty of pundits sounded off on Suzy Whaley.
Doesnt anybody read those signs that are so ubiquitous at tournaments'Quiet Please?
Tigers early mission was to make golf look like America. Thats a work in progress, but golf does sound like America these days. LOUD.
Whos right - Hootie or Martha? Should Suzy play? Did Curtis blow it? Let us know what you think. Vote now.
Its the surest sign that golf has arrived as a major sport'the discourse has reached ear-splitting levels.
The sport used to hum along rather quietly, even blissfully, but no longer. Not with a multi-cultural, hotter-than-J.Lo superstar, and not with its propensity to cling to old practices in a new and different world.
Alas, the racket has subsided just a bit during the holidays, enough so that I can hear myself think. Here now some thoughts on the season gone by:
The man of the year is Rich Beem. Thats right, Rich Beem. Oh sure, Tigers the player of the year and will be for the next 10 or 15. But Rich Beems one of us, and he won a major. In an era of ubergolfers who train like Drago from Rocky IV, Beemers a rare gem, a throwback to Hagen and a time when guys let loose.
Back home in New Mexico after winning the PGA, he treated 20 of his closest pals to Taco Cabana at 2 A.M., this after a raucous night of dice and cards in a smoke- filled room at El Paso Country Club. Six years ago the game was clamoring for its next star and got Tiger Woods. For some time golfs been in need of a genuine character. Thats Rich Beem.
The woman of the year is Annika Sorenstam. Please, spare me this nonsense that proclaims Martha Burk golfs most important woman of 2002. Burk fired plenty of missives, but she didnt hit a single golf shot. Sorenstam won more tournaments in a single season than any female since 1964. And shes come closer than anyone, male or female, to achieving what every high-level player seeks'the ability to repeat a mechanically sound golf swing again and again and again.
The years biggest mystery was David Duval. Who didnt think his 2001 British Open victory would springboard him to greater glory? But personal problems dulled his passion, and he finished 80th on the PGA Tour money list.
The biggest loss was Sam Snead. As much as his magnificent swing, Ill remember a moment under the oak tree two years ago at Augusta. Snead, not long after launching his ceremonial tee ball, discussed his health with a group of maybe 20 reporters. He began to talk about some recent dental work, and without warning, removed his teeth to show to the pack of dumbstruck scribes. It was one of the funniest things Ive ever seen. Talk about legendary characters. That was Sam.
Ironically, Sams old nemesis, Paul Runyan, also passed away this year. Runyan, despite giving up whopping distance off the tee, routed the Slammer, 8-and-7, in the 1938 PGA Championship final. He remains one of the best examples that in golf the little guy can compete.
We also said goodbye to, but certainly havent lost, Ken Venturi and Nancy Lopez.
The best surprise was obviously Craig Perks. His Players' Championship was an upset on the order of Villanova over Georgetown. The guy was 203rd in the world, for crying out loud! And his pitch-in, birdie-bomb, pitch-in finish was one for the ages.
The sweetest smiles belonged to Jeff Julian, Fred Funk, Juli Inkster, Ernie Els, Patty Sheehan and Sam Torrance.
I watched Julian, bravely fighting ALS, make a long birdie putt at Pebble in February, and a happier man in the world youd have been hard pressed to find. I was instantly reminded of what Lou Gehrig, ravaged by the disease for which there is still no known cure, said to 60,000 fans at Yankee Stadium in 1939, Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. Over the summer, Julian was celebrated in his native Vermont at one of the most emotional parties Id ever attended, alternately joyous and tear-filled.
Meanwhile, Funk danced his way around Hazeltine, proving a little personality goes a long ways. Juli breathed fire at the U.S. Women's Open and melted Annikas icy calm. Ernie hugged the Claret Jug, Muirfields setting sun illuminating his still handsome face, the strain of all those days in Tigers shadow washed away. And Patty and Sam roared with the kind of joy and exuberance that have become the hallmark of those riveting team competitions, the Solheim and Ryder Cups.
Heading to 2003, several sagas play on. Phil Mickelson is 0-42 in majors. To end the drought, hell need to cut down on missed putts from short range and ease off the gas pedal in general. Mistake-free, predominantly conservative play wins majors.
Tigers proven that, and, overall, his supremacy remains totally unchallenged. While the pool of occasional challengers may have grown, the gap between Tiger and the pack is as wide as the Grand Canyon. And hes getting better.
Looking ahead to April, The Masters might well be the all-time media mess. Tiger going for an unprecedented third straight jacket? A mere sidebar with Hootie and Martha in the squared circle. The balls in Hooties court, and apparently hes just going to take the air out of it. Good, old-fashioned, North Carolina four-corner stall. No 35-second clock in this game.
Golf marches on, the drumbeat ever louder.
Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic
Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand
CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.
Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.
''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''
Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.
Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.
Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.
She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.
''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''
Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.
Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.
''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.
Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.
Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.
''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''
It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.
Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.
Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.
The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.
''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''
PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.
Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.
Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.
''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''
It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.
He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.
''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''
Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.
Later, he laughed about the moment.
''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''
Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.
Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”
Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”
The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.
“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”
The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.
“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”
Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.
“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”
Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .
“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.