#AskLav: Handing out season-ending awards

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2014, 1:30 pm

With only 21 days before the start of the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season, there isn’t enough time for any of those long-winded, cringe-worthy speeches. No, sir. This will be the most frenetic awards ceremony in history, so cue the get-the-heck-off-the-stage music.

BEST PLAYER IN A LEADING ROLE

Nominees: Rory McIlroy, Billy Horschel, Bubba Watson 

Winner: Rory McIlroy 

It wasn’t just the three wins in a row, though hose back-to-back major titles certainly were memorable. For the first time, at age 25, McIlroy finally embraced the title of golf’s leading man.


BEST PLAYER IN A SUPPORTING ROLE

Nominees: Rickie Fowler, Sergio Garcia, Jim Furyk

Winner: Rickie Fowler

The 25-year-old became the third player in history to post top-5s in all four majors. Unlike Jack and Tiger, though, Rickie walked away empty-handed.


BEST TOURNAMENT

Nominees: The Players, Colonial, PGA Championship

Winner: PGA Championship

On the final day, Rory, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson and Rickie were all in the mix for the title, with Furyk, Ernie Els, Jimmy Walker and Hunter Mahan among those cracking the top 10. It truly was Glory’s Last Sh … ah, forget it. 


BEST DRAMA 

Nominees: Adam Scott-Jason Dufner playoff at Colonial, WGC-Match Play final, PGA Championship Sunday

Winner: WGC-Match Play final 

Victor Dubuisson, at the time a little-known Frenchman, channeled Seve’s short-game magic to not once but twice get up-and-down from the cacti before finally succumbing to Jason Day.


BEST CLUTCH PUTT 

Nominees: Martin Kaymer’s par on 17 Sunday at The Players, Rory McIlroy’s two eagles in the last three holes Saturday at the Open, Billy Horschel’s par on 16 Sunday at the Tour Championship 

Winner: Martin Kaymer 

Kaymer’s lead had been trimmed from three shots to one by the time he stood on the famed 17th. His tee shot spun back down the slope and came to rest about a foot from the bulkhead, leading to an awkward chip that came up 30 feet short. The left-to-right-breaking putt went up and over a hill and slammed into the back of the cup – the par that preserved the win and gave Kaymer his first victory in the States since the 2010 PGA.  


BEST MOMENT

Nominees: Erik Compton finishes runner-up at U.S. Open, Jarrod Lyle returns to competition, Billy Horschel gets last laugh at critics 

Winner: Erik Compton

How fitting that a two-time heart-transplant recipient recorded his best-ever finish (and told his incredible story nationally) at the more grueling test in golf.


BEST BREAKOUT STAR

Nominees: Jimmy Walker, Patrick Reed, Billy Horschel 

Winner: Patrick Reed 

Love him or loathe him, fans now certainly know him. After a victory at the Wyndham last August, P-Reed set the 54-hole scoring record en route to a win at the Humana, then topped an elite field at Doral, where he made even bigger news by declaring himself a “top-5” player. Alas, he has been very cautious with the media ever since.


BIGGEST FLOP 

Nominees: Phil Mickelson’s season, Tiger Woods’ return from injury, Dustin Johnson’s self-imposed leave of absense, Bubba Watson’s petulance at the PGA 

Winner: Tiger Woods 

After going under the knife in late March, the former world No. 1 missed two majors before surprising everyone, even himself, with a return at his own event in late June. He missed the cut in D.C., wasn’t competitive at the Open, reinjured himself at Firestone, labored through two rounds at the PGA, parted ways with his swing coach and now has shut it down until December. Yep, just another ho-hum year for golfs most fascinating player.

OK, enough awards. Everybody out. The after-party is at Rory’s waterfront crib. 


 

 

First rookie: Justin Thomas. He’s the same age (21) as Jordan Spieth, whom he beat out for college player of the year in 2012. Spieth has gone on to enjoy tremendous success in the big leagues, and there’s no reason why Thomas won’t do the same. During his one-year apprenticeship on the Web.com circuit, he won once and finished in the top 10 in six other events. The preeminent ball-striker will be on ’boards early and often in this new season.  

First-time major winner: Sergio’s time is coming, whether the golf gods want it to or not, but Jason Day is the most likely to break through next year – assuming, of course, that he returns to full health. Yes, the Aussie seemed poised for a monster year after winning the WGC-Match Play in February, but injuries to his thumb and back stalled his momentum. This is a guy with seven top 10s in majors since 2010, including a T-4 at this year’s U.S. Open, and he’s too solid from tee-to-green not to nab one soon.  


 

 

Don’t like it at all, to be honest, and in many ways it’s related to my main beef with the FedEx Cup. The premise is flawed. All along, the Cup has been billed as the race to determine a season-long champion, except that’s not what the FedEx Cup does at all. With its current points structure, the Cup identifies two very different things: 1.) the playoff field, or the 125 players who keep their card for next season; and 2.) the player who gets hot at the right time in the playoffs. Rory McIlroy was the best during the regular season. Billy Horschel won the postseason component. Just call it like it is. These Web.com Tour Finals, and specifically the priority rankings, also attempt to equate season-long performance and “playoff” results but they, too, should be viewed separately.

Let’s use Blayne Barber and Tom Hoge as examples. Barber won a tournament and finished sixth on the Web.com regular-season money list. Hoge had two top 10s and finished 65th in earnings. Barber has one top 10 in the Finals, a T-6 at last week’s Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship. Hoge also has one top 10, a solo third at the Chiquita Classic. Barber (with a win, five other top 10s and nearly $270,000 in earnings) is No. 10 on the priority rankings. Hoge (with no wins, three top 10s and $72,000 in earnings) is No. 11.

How is that bottom-heavy system possibly fair to guys who traveled the country for 20-plus events and battled for $33,000 paychecks? The 50 players who earn the most money during the entire year (including both the regular season and the Finals) should get their cards. Simple.


 

 

Despite Paul McGinley’s insistence that there will be no hard feelings between Rory and G-Mac – whose lawyers are currently brawling in court – it’s hard to envision them together for more than a session at Gleneagles, if at all. Instead, the team we’d most like to see is Rory-Sergio. They are pals, both are in form, and Sergio thrives in this competition (16-8-4). On the U.S. side, a Rickie-Phil tag team has the potential for some fireworks, especially if Lefty and Keegan misfire early. Then again, it’s entirely possible that Tom Watson will ignore all outside advice and match players with dissimilar games and combustible personalities. As a writer, I’ll be rooting for that disastrous scenario.


 

 

Expecting about a four-point loss for the U.S. – somewhere in between the Medinah nail-biter (14.5 to 13.5) and the K Club massacre (18.5 to 9.5). The Europeans have better players at the top, better vibes in the event (won five of last six) and better support with the home crowd. Anything can happen during a three-day match-play competition with 24 of the world’s best players, of course, but if the home squad jumps out to a comfortable lead after Day 1, this thing is ovah. Predicted final score: Europe 16.5, U.S. 11.5.


 

 

Breakout star: Hideki Matsuyama. Surprised that he was unable to capitalize on his Memorial victory (no top 10s since), but this is a big-time talent with all of the necessary tools to be a multiple winner every season on Tour.

Fading star: Jason Dufner. Reportedly scheduled to return to competition next month, but the neck injury that forced Duf out of the PGA will linger for the rest of his playing career. When talking to him at Valhalla, he wasnt just disappointed and frustrated. He was also scared – two bulging disks is a career-threatening ailment. It’s a shame too, because his popularity has surged in recent years, but already 37 he likely has one eye on the endgame.  


 

 

Let’s not forget where Rickie was a year ago – lost with his swing, at home during the Tour Championship, an afterthought for the Presidents Cup. He hooked up with Butch Harmon during the offseason, shelved the Crayola outfits and cut his hair, and after a few lean months transformed into a player who recorded a top 5 in all four majors, who closed out the year with eight top 15s in nine starts and who will play in his second Ryder Cup next week. The only thing he needs now: more titles. 


 

 

This is one man’s list of the 25-and-under crop as it currently stands, not a projection of future success:

1. Rory McIlroy, age 25

2. Rickie Fowler, 25

3. Patrick Reed, 24

4. Jordan Spieth, 21

5. Hideki Matsuyama, 22

6. Victor Dubuisson, 24

7. Russell Henley, 25

8. Brooks Koepka, 23

9. Harris English, 25

10. Matteo Manassero, 21


 

 

Seems like forever ago that Spieth had a two-shot lead with 11 holes to play at the Masters. The 21-year-old told the AP’s Doug Ferguson last week that he cracked his driver head at The Players (where he had a share of the 54-hole lead) and hasn’t been able to find the right combination since. He lost some distance off the tee, and it’s a big reason why he has recorded but one top 10 in a full-field event since May. Obviously he’ll be fine once he gets his equipment squared away, but his oh-fer in 2014 serves as yet another reminder that there’s a wide gulf between every-week contender and prolific winner. 

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.

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Florida golfers encounter python-wrapped alligator

By Grill Room TeamJanuary 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Alligator sightings are pretty common on Southern golf courses - see here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.

Also, here. (RIP, Timmy the Turtle.)

But here's one that deserves distinction.

Those images come from the Golf Club at Fiddler's Creek, down in Naples - in case you're booking a vacation to Southwest Florida or just looking for a Hot Deal this week. Hit 'em straight, folks.