One Month In and Already Wondering
*His first round 66 at Spyglass was impressive, but my colleague Clifton Brown of The New York Times says we're not talking Willis Reed limping onto the Garden floor for game seven against Wilt and the Lakers now are we?
(No, we're not.)
*No. 1 in greens in regulation in 2000, No. 2 in putts per green in regulation. That's truly amazing. But no one, not even Tiger, can continue to make every single putt he looks at. It's just not possible. And so Tiger's 0-3 in 2001? Is it more or less exciting with other guys now winning?
*Tiger's powerful. No. 1 most powerful in all of sports, according to The Sporting News. It'll be interesting to see how he will he use that power in the coming years.
*17-year-old Ryan Ring loves golf, loves life and beat leukemia. In the grand, sometimes difficult scheme of life, Ryan stepped up, pulled out a two iron and into a 30-mile-an-hour gale force wind knocked it two feet from the flag. Closed out leukemia on the 14th hole. Through the Make a Wish Foundation, he was able to partner with another courageous golfer, Casey Martin, at Pebble Beach. 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft was also in the group and said of Ring, 'His father told me that Ryan literally was practicing his golf while he was hooked up to the chemo equipment. He's really a great, great kid.' Ryan networked Casey for a possible entre to Stanford. Nice to have big plans and not big worries. Isn't that what youth and life should be all about?
*Team Garcia lit a spark in the Pebble Gallery. Sergio, 17-year-old younger sister Mar (Spanish for 'sea'), and papa Victor had the time of their lives. Mar's got big brother's swing, smile and confidence and plans to perhaps pursue the University of Arizona. After kicking up some dust near the amateur lead at Pebble, Mar came down with a stomach virus before Saturday's round. She toughed it out. Sergio produced one of the tender moments of the week when, just before the first tee introductions, he wrapped his arms around Mar and gave her a warm hug. Sergio's soft hands should one day win a major. Augusta, you would think, considering his Spanish predecessors Seve and Jose Maria demonstrated such feel for the National.
*Winning in Hawaii, Furyk and Faxon stroked home the point that there's still room on occasion for the really good putter.
*Calcavecchia reminds us that excellence in golf is merely on loan. You don't own it. You don't control it. One week you shoot a three for 72 holes. The cup looks like a bunker. You're a month away from the one year anniversary of your bizarre-but-effective relationship with the strange grip you employ known as 'the claw.' But within days of your record at Phoenix and all that good feeling, you suddenly break your putter in the second round at the AT&T, abandon the claw, putt with your metal wood and shoot 7,896. The word is fleeting, friggin' fleeting. There's just no explaining it. There's no magic. It's just the way the damn game is. Was it the late Jim Murray who said the game's a pirate?
*On the other hand, Calc did win 720 grand for shooting a three for 72 holes in Phoenix. Mark Johnson won a playoff in the Monday qualifier at Pebble and was just happy to be anywhere playing for cash. Johnson has delivered Budweiser Beer for 20 years, arising at 2 a.m. for his 4 a.m. shift. He's 46, made it through two stages of The PGA Tour's Qualifying Tournament and has played some Canadian Tour events. He hopes to make it on Tour or later the Senior Tour. Rather than take any credit for himself when he floated on the leaderboard through a couple of rounds at Pebble, Mark offered the following, 'The busy season in the beer business is the summertime, which also happens to be the busy season for golfers. I owe some thanks to all the guys at the distributorship that I work at for covering for me while I'm playing in tournaments. So, this Bud's for you guys.' And this Bud's for you, Mark.
Mark Johnson is one of my favorite professional golfers.
Ryan Ring is one of my favorite amateur golfers.
Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might
Bernhard Langer goes back out on tour this week to chase down more than Hale Irwin’s PGA Tour Champions record of 45 career victories. His chase is against himself.
“I’m not playing to beat Hale Irwin’s record,” Langer told me before heading to Hawaii to defend his title at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. “I play golf to play the best I can, to be a good role model, and to enjoy a few more years that are left.”
Langer turned 60 on Aug. 27 and was presented a massage chair by his family as a birthday gift. Instead of reclining (which he does to watch golf and football), he won three more times to close out a seven-win campaign that included three major championships. A year prior, coming off a four-victory season, Langer told me after winning his fourth Charles Schwab Cup that surpassing Irwin’s record was possible but not probable. With 36 career victories and 11 in his last two years, he has changed his tone to making up the nine-tournament difference as “probable.”
“If I could continue a few more years on that ratio, I could get close or pass him,” Langer told me from his home in Boca Raton, Fla. “It will get harder. I’m 60 now. It’s a big challenge but I don’t shy away from challenges.”
Bernhard Langer, Hale Irwin at the 1991 Ryder Cup (Getty Images)
Langer spent his off-season playing the PNC Father/Son, taking his family on a ski vacation at Big Sky in Yellowstone, Montana, and to New York for New Year’s. He ranks himself as a scratch skier, having skied since he was four years old in Germany. The risk of injury is worth it, considering how much he loves “the scenery, the gravity and the speed.”
Since returning from New York, Langer has immersed himself into preparing for the 2018 season. Swing coach Willy Hoffman, who he has worked with since his boyhood days as an as assistant pro in Germany, flew to Florida for their 43rd year of training.
“He’s a straight shooter,” Hoffman told me. “He says, 'Willy, every hour is an hour off my life and we have 24 hours every day.'"
As for Irwin, they have maintained a respectful relationship that goes back to their deciding singles match in the 1991 Ryder Cup. Last year they were brought back to Kiawah Island for a corporate appearance where they reminisced and shared the thought that nobody should ever have to bear what Langer went through, missing a 6-footer on the 18th green. That was 27 years ago. Both are in the Hall of Fame.
"I enjoy hanging out with Hale," Langer says.
Langer’s chase of Irwin’s record is not going to change their legacies. As Hoffman pointed out, “Yes, (Bernhard) is a rich man compared to his younger days. He had no money, no nothing. But today you don’t feel a difference when you talk to him. He’s always on the ground.”
McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks
The Americans have won their past two international team competitions by a combined score of 38-22, but Rory McIlroy isn’t expecting another pushover at the Ryder Cup in September.
McIlroy admitted that the U.S. team will be strong, and that its core of young players (including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler) will be a force for the next decade. But he told reporters Tuesday at the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship that course setup will play a significant role.
“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said, referring to the Americans’ 17-11 victory in 2016. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”
At every Ryder Cup, the home team has the final say on course setup. Justin Rose was the most outspoken about the setup at Hazeltine, saying afterward that it was “incredibly weak” and had a “pro-am feel.”
And so this year’s French Open figures to be a popular stop for European Tour players – it’s being held once again at Le Golf National, site of the matches in September. Tommy Fleetwood won last year’s event at 12 under.
“I’m confident,” McIlroy said. “Everything being all well and good, I’ll be on that team and I feel like we’ll have a really good chance.
“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that. The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
Floodlights may be used at Dubai Desert Classic
No round at next week’s Dubai Desert Classic will be suspended because of darkness.
Tournament officials have installed state-of-the-art floodlighting around the ninth and 18th greens to ensure that all 132 players can finish their round.
With the event being moved up a week in the schedule, the European Tour was initially concerned about the amount of daylight and trimmed the field to 126 players. Playing under the lights fixed that dilemma.
“This is a wonderful idea and fits perfectly with our desire to bring innovation to our sport,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said. “No professional golfer ever wants to come back the following morning to complete a round due to lack of daylight, and this intervention, should it be required, will rule out that necessity.”
Next week’s headliners include Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.
Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas
Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.
Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.
Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.
McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.