#AskLav: Swinging from Florida into Augusta

By Ryan LavnerMarch 27, 2014, 12:50 pm

Maybe I’ve temporarily lost my fastball, but this week I found it difficult to get fired up about Adam Scott’s collapse, Tiger Woods’ back or the Texas Two-Step. That tends to happen after losing a friend. 

I worked with Ron Balicki for 2 ½ years while at Golfweek. Man, the guy was a legend. At tournaments, young players would sign their card and go seek him out to talk. Coaches confided in him. Everyone gravitated to his kindness. When hotshot collegian Rickie Fowler announced that he was turning pro, the one and only reporter he called was Ron.

He loved telling their stories, and he did so with compassion. Zeal. Warmth. In 2010, he became the first non-coach to be inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame. In truth, he could have gone in two decades earlier without objection.

Ron died earlier this week at his Arkansas home. His mind was strong, but he had grown weak after battling cancer. He was only 65.

The only thing that Ron loved more than covering college golf was the people involved in the game. Superstars from powerhouse teams or benchwarmers from Division-III schools, it didn’t matter. If you had a story, Ron wanted to share it.

Covering this year’s NCAA Championship will be strange, no doubt. All of us will miss that familiar, raspy voice – Riiiight, riiiight – when talking to players, coaches, officials, parents.

This would have been Ron’s 30th consecutive NCAA final, and it was always one of the highlights of his year. The man was college golf. It’ll never be the same. 

Now, this week’s mailbag:

 

Only three players – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Horton Smith in 1934 – have ever won the Masters in their first apperance, but it would surprise little if Patrick Reed found himself in contention on the weekend at the Masters. He’s in familiar environs, he played the course as an amateur, and he’s unlikely to be fazed by the pomp and circumstance that usually derails Masters rookies. Many can recite the fact that Reed has won three of his last 15 starts, but it’s worth noting, too, that those victories are his only top 10s during that span. He’s the definition of a hit-or-miss talent, and his major debut could prove a home run if everything clicks.


 

 

Smart question, but don’t forget that there is a greater importance to the Official World Ranking than simply determining the No. 1 player in the world. It’s also used, among other things, to set the fields for majors; the top 50 after this week’s Valero Texas Open earns a spot in this year’s Masters.

But, since you asked, a two-year period is a better indicator of a player’s general form, through good times and bad, and one win will always be more valuable than eight missed cuts. Prior to this year, Tiger had won eight times in the past two seasons, far more than any other player, which is why he had such a big cushion atop the rankings. After some shoddy play, though, he’s now on the verge of losing his No. 1 spot by late March. There still is volatility. Seems fair to me. 


 

 

Back injuries can be funny, and not in the ha-ha sense. They can act up at any time, without warning, even after being cleared by a doctor. Tiger could play pain-free for the rest of the year … or he could hit his opening tee shot at Augusta, keel over and shut it down for the rest of the season. The only way that Woods will skip the Masters is if he deems the risk of re-injury too great, which certainly is possible. He has never missed the year’s first major, even when his personal life was in tatters, but if he does now then we’ll know that his injury is far more serious than he’s letting on. 


Instagram#AskLav: Is the par-3 12th at Augusta the hardest par 3 in major tournament play? And why? Swirling winds or the pressure of the moment? – Mike Hallee, via Instagram

Absolutely. The 12th is far narrower than it appears on television, so any gust of wind or surge of adrenaline could send a tee ball either into the back bunker or Rae’s Creek. That tee shot – with only a pitching wedge or 9-iron – demands a surgeon’s precision, which is no easy task on Sunday afternoon with a green jacket at stake. 


 

 

Considering that the R&A was a male-only institution for 260 years, that it didn’t previously yield to political and social pressure, golf fans should simply be glad that it appears set to open its doors to women. Finally. In the future – whether that is in five, 10, 50, 100 years – there seems little doubt that the private clubs will eventually invite women to join, that the R&A will sponsor a women’s amateur event, etc. This was a massive leap, the Advil for a p.r. headache, but let’s take it one step at a time. 


Instagram#AskLav: Will this kidney stone I’m passing help with my right-to-left trajectory? – Stantonit, via Instagram

Well, um, after the excruciating pain passes, a better option might be closing your feet line. 

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.

Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Ortiz leads LAAC through 54; Niemann, Gana one back

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 8:15 pm

Mexico's Alvaro Ortiz shot a 1-under 70 Monday to take the 54-hole lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship in Chile.

At 4 under for the week, he leads by one over over Argentina's Jaime Lopez Rivarola, Chile's Toto Gana and Joaquin Niemann, and Guatemala's Dnaiel Gurtner.

Ortiz is the younger brother of three-time Web.com winner Carlos. Alvaro, a senior at Arkansas, finished tied for third at the LAAC in 2016 and lost in a three-way playoff last year that included Niemann and Gana, the champion.

Ortiz shared the 54-hole lead with Gana last year and they will once again play in the final group on Tuesday, along with Gurtner, a redshirt junior at TCU.

“Literally, I've been thinking about [winning] all year long," Ortiz said Monday. "Yes, I am a very emotional player, but tomorrow I want to go out calm and with a lot of patience. I don't want the emotions to get the better of me. What I've learned this past year, especially in the tournaments I’ve played for my university, is that I have become more mature and that I have learned how to control myself on the inside on the golf course.”

In the group behind, Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who is poised to turn professional, unless of course he walks away with the title.

“I feel a lot of motivation at the moment, especially because I am the only player in the field that shot seven under (during the second round), and I am actually just one shot off the lead," he said. "So I believe that tomorrow I can shoot another very low round."

Tuesday's winner will earn an invitation to this year's Masters and exemptions into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open, and final qualifying for The Open.