#AskLav: Looking back at 2013, ahead to 2014

By Ryan LavnerDecember 12, 2013, 2:05 pm

Here’s a depressing fact: The 2013-14 PGA Tour season will resume in 22 days, barring, of course, another onslaught of hellacious winds, freak snowstorms, derechos and seemingly everything but locust attacks. 

Seriously – 22 days. That’s barely enough time to roll out all of this end-of-the-year content, crank out season-preview stories, buy and return gifts, and then board a flight bound for Kapalua.

So it follows that this will be the final #AskLav mailbag of the year, because, really, we’re left with little choice. There aren’t many Thursdays remaining in 2013. But before diving into your mailbag questions, here are one scribe’s reflections on the year that was: 

• That Tiger Woods won five times and still wasn’t the clear-cut choice for Player of the Year choice tells me two things: 1.) He continues to be judged by the absurdly high standards that he set; and 2.) The quality of golf this year, worldwide, was incredible.

• Never covered a tournament quite like the WGC-Match Play. That week I had the early shift, meaning I covered the tournament Tuesday-Friday while another writer (in this case, the inimitable Rex Hoggard) stayed for the weekend when the field was cut to eight players. That was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature clearly had other ideas, and soon about four inches fell on the otherwise forgettable Dove Mountain course. There were snowball fights, dudes sledding on pizza boxes and long lines for hot chocolate. The warmest jackets we packed were fleece pullovers, and I ended up covering only a round and a half before heading to the airport. Needless to say, the Match Play is not on my 2014 tournament wish list. 

• The course I most wanted to play this year: National Golf Links of America. The host site for the Walker Cup matches is truly spectacular, and an ideal course for a match-play event. Let’s hope it’s not another 91 years before NGLA stages another high-profile tournament.

• Best Tour stop if you like food (which I do): Zurich Classic. Gained nine pounds this April after eating fried seafood platters, barbecued shrimp and succulent chargrilled oysters. And, yes, I’m drooling as I type this.  

• What did we learn from the Tiger-Sergio spat this year at the Players? When provoked, TW always seeks and destroys.

• The top 5 in the world ranking as of this writing is Tiger, Scott, Big Stense, Rosey and Phil. At this time next year, I think it will look like this: Tiger, Scott, Rory, Big Stense, Jason Day.

• One of the great thrills of the year was catching up with Jim Furyk’s group to follow his bid for 59 in Chicago. For all of his meltdowns in the past few years, he showed a lot of stones by stuffing that gap-wedge shot to kick-in range.

• Yes, Merion was tricked out for this year’s U.S. Open. It was possible, maybe even likely, to snap a wrist while hitting out of that rough. The average player couldn’t get home with driver-driver on 18. But man, what an awesome collection of holes. 

• Watching Rory McIlroy in San Antonio, I was convinced that he’d turn it around and win soon thereafter. His strut was back, but so, too, were the titanium-denting drives and rock-solid stroke. Yeah, that didn’t quite pan out – he didn’t win for another 34 weeks. 

• For what it’s worth, I was behind the first green at Conway Farms, staring right at Tiger, when his ball apparently moved in the pine needles. This new video rule is a good one – there was no way that movement was discernible to the naked eye.

• Precisely half of my rounds played this year were during GolfChannel.com’s 11-day adventure in Scotland – 126 holes in five days. My best round of the year (73) was in a tournament the day before my wedding. My worst (85) was the first round after my nuptials. Coincidence?



Is a heavier driver shaft the missing link in Tiger’s major game? Probably not. In his last 23 weekend rounds at a major, Woods has shot in the 60s just three times. Over that same span he has 12 sub-par rounds on Thursday-Friday. That tells me that there’s a mental hurdle, that he’s pressing, that he’s trying too hard for major No. 15. This a make-or-break year for Tiger when it comes to chasing Jack. If the world No. 1 doesn’t win one this year – with his game in order, with this favorable foursome of venues – then there’ll be serious doubt whether he can get to 15 majors, let alone 18.   



Well, if Watson had to make that decision today, the U.S. team would be in grave condition, unless, of course, you welcome the thought of an American side with Ryan Moore and Chris Kirk among the automatic qualifiers, with Jason Bohn, who has exactly two wins in 247 career starts, sitting next on the list at No. 10. Tiger (15), Kooch (16), Zach (17) and Sneds (18) would all be relying on picks. So would Billy Ho (21), Keegan (22), Stricker (26) and Spieth (71). Here’s guessing this list will look a little different in nine months.



Hey, at least Tiger is built to win in 2014! The same can’t be said for the lovable losers, who are stocked with young talent but at least a few years away from being a serious playoff contender. Tiger is more likely to break his curse first, since he’s as healthy as he’s been in years, he’s no longer bogged down with swing thoughts, and he’s approaching 2014 major venues at which he has had success. The Cubs, meanwhile, will be lucky to win 75 games. That drought lives on.



The single-most important hire will be the lead analyst. Love him or loathe him, Johnny Miller is must-watch TV at the Open. He LOVES that tournament. He’s been in that cauldron (as you might have been told a time or two), and he’s not afraid to opine, no matter how ridiculous. It was reported in August that Fox has approached Greg Norman about the gig, and that would be a curious choice, given his uneven record in the year’s second major (no wins, just five top 10s in 19 starts) and penchant for head-scratching comments (like this, for instance). Though he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Johnny or the Shark, I’d love to see Paul Azinger in that role. Smart, thoughtful, opinionated, well-researched. 



Good question. For all we know, the 28-year-old is either working hard on his game in Dallas, squandering all of his money ($12M in career earnings) in Vegas or getting ready to start filming the “Entourage” movie with Vincent Chase. He hasn’t played a full schedule since 2011 or been heard from, really, since undergoing surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in summer 2012. At this point, he remains more cautionary tale than comeback candidate. 



Indeed, this #AskLav mailbag – in which I formed an NFL team with only golfers – was my favorite of 2013. That group couldn’t be any more dysfunctional than the Redskins, right?

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First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 11:30 pm

It's officially match play time.

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play kicks off this week in Austin, where 64 of the top players will square off in a combination of round robin play and single elimination. The top 16 players in the field will serve as top seeds in each of the 16 groups this week, while their round-robin opponents were drawn randomly from three different pods Monday night.

Here's a look at the four-player groups that will begin play Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Johnson never trailed en route to victory last year, and he'll start with a match against the Austrian. Kisner has missed three of his last four cuts, while Hadwin enters off three straight top-12 finishes.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Rahm will start with a match against a former major winner in Bradley, while a match against fellow Arizona State alum Reavie looms the following day. Rounding out the group is Aphibarnrat, who won in Brunei two weeks ago.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

All eyes in this group will be on the Spieth-Reed match Friday as the former Ryder Cup teammates square off. But don't sleep on Li, who finished third at The Open in July, or Schwartzel, a former Masters champ.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

This group kicks off with an all-English battle between Fleetwood and Poulter, while Berger and Chappell were both members of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in the fall.

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Perez and Woodland are already winners this season in Malaysia and Phoenix, respectively, while Simpson finished T-8 in Tampa two weeks ago and Kim will soon defend his Players title at TPC Sawgrass.

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Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

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Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.


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How Faxon became 'The Putting Stroke Whisperer'

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

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If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

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Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

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Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.