McDowell, Watson, Dufner discuss life after big wins

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2013, 8:04 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Wearing the winner’s tartan jacket last Sunday night, Graeme McDowell appeared relieved – that he had survived a hellish day at Harbour Town, that he’s seeing signs of improvement and that his near three-year winless drought on the PGA Tour was over.

In 2010, seemingly half a career ago, G-Mac enjoyed a dream season. He won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He delivered the clinching point at the Ryder Cup. He took down Tiger Woods at his own tournament. They were three spectacular, legacy-defining moments, and they occurred in a six-month span. A market correction loomed.

The following year, he changed equipment and grappled internally with who he was as a golfer and where he was going. Finally, he emerged as the man you saw at Hilton Head – ebullient, engaged to be married, a proud restaurant owner and, yes, a two-time PGA Tour winner.

Yet in the wake of McDowell’s resurgence, it’s worth exploring: Why is a breakthrough season so rarely followed by another stellar campaign?

After all, no 2012 major champion has won this year, on any tour, anywhere. Neither have a few of the promising stars of last season, namely Rickie Fowler and Jason Dufner, the defending champion here at the Zurich Classic.


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Indeed, the latter may be best remembered this year for doing nothing, in the form of Dufnering.

In that viral photo from late March, Dufner was snapped leaning against a wall in a children’s classroom, legs erect, arms stiff at his side, completely zoned out. The pose has become something of a cultural phenomenon – when Wednesday’s pro-am was suspended due to severe weather, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Fowler each took turns posting #Dufnering photos on Twitter. It never gets old, thankfully.

Unfortunately for Dufner, 36, however, this season has been similarly expressionless. A few months ago, he fell into a bad habit (shutting his clubface at the top of the swing) after playing in windy conditions. As a result, the two-time winner in 2012 has had four top 25s, zero top 10s and no realistic chances to win, but thinks now that he has “turned the page.”

“I don’t feel like I’ve added any pressure on myself (this season),” he said. “I feel like I can win events, but I don’t feel like I should win events out here on a regular basis. You can play a lot of great golf and not win events.”

Justin Rose says players such as Dufner are simply evolving. The Englishman initiated his own self-evaluation after last year’s victory at Doral, where he took a massive career leap in capturing his first World Golf Championship. Currently, he has racked up 16 consecutive top-25 finishes worldwide – an incredible streak that dates to Labor Day – as he has ascended to No. 4 in the world rankings. But there have been no victories during that span, save for the unofficial eight-man cash-grab in Turkey.

“Life gets busier,” Rose, 32, said. “Sponsorship demands, media obligations, the phone starts ringing a bit more. A lot of that happens without you really realizing it’s changing. All of a sudden you realize you don’t have quite the same time to practice or don’t have enough time for family or time for yourself. That all has a very big effect.

“Expectations ramp up and that can lead to frustration if things aren’t going your way. We want to play our best golf and have breakout years and push ourselves to the next level, but that next level comes with its own set of challenges. You’ve got to be ready to face them.”

Watson confronts those challenges more publicly than most. Last year, just weeks before the Masters, he and wife Angie adopted their first son, Caleb, now 14 months. In the months following the green-jacket ceremony, Watson has smashed produce with his pink driver on late-night TV, appeared in a few Ping commercials, filmed another Golf Boys video and unveiled his hovercraft golf cart. In other words, life intervened.

But since winning the Masters, since becoming a breakout star, Watson has not won or finished in the top 10 in his last four majors.

What changed?

Well, to hear Watson, quite a bit.

“The media, when you win a big event, they don’t attack you but they flock to you. You have a voice now, something to say. When you just top 10 each week, they don’t really flock to you. Sponsors want more of your time. Fans want more of your time. There are more charity things you can do, more events you can go to. High-up people are calling you, wanting to hang out. Golf is the last thing on everybody’s mind.”

Watson, 34, says he’s adjusting not just to celebrity life but to life itself. He hopes to start a foundation, to raise money for charity. He and Angie want to adopt another son, to enjoy their new house in Florida.

Soon, young Caleb will begin school, and Watson says it’s never too early to look at retirement options, or discuss insurance policies.

“There are a lot of things that distract you from golf,” he says. “But for me, golf is the easy part. Life is the harder thing. We all struggle with that at some point.”

Eventually, talent overcomes and they will win again, much like McDowell after a near three-year drought on Tour.

The hope next time, of course, is that the adjustment period isn’t so harsh.

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Rosaforte: Woods plays with Obama, gets rave reviews

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:15 pm

Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reports on Tiger Woods’ recent round at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., alongside President Barack Obama.

Check out the video, as Rosaforte says Woods received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon. 

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Stock Watch: Spieth searching for putting form

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:50 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Patton Kizzire (+8%): By today’s accelerated standards, he’s a late bloomer, having reached the Tour at age 29. Well, he seems right at home now, with two wins in his last four starts.

Rory (+7%): Coming off the longest break of his career, McIlroy should have no excuses this year. He’s healthy. Focused. Motivated. It’s go time.

Chris Paisley (+5%): The best part about his breakthrough European Tour title that netted him $192,000? With his wife, Keri, on the bag, he doesn’t have to cut 10 percent to his caddie – she gets the whole thing.

Brooke Henderson (+3%): A seventh-place finish at the Diamond Resorts Invitational doesn’t sound like much for a five-time winner, but this came against the men – on a cold, wet, windy, 6,700-yard track. She might be the most fun player to watch on the LPGA. 

New European Ryder Cuppers (+2%): In something of a Ryder Cup dress rehearsal, newcomers Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton each went undefeated in leading Europe to a come-from-behind victory at the EurAsia Cup. The competition come September will be, um, a bit stiffer.



FALLING

Jordan’s putting (-1%): You can sense his frustration in interviews, and why not? In two starts he leads the Tour in greens in regulation … and ranks 201st (!) in putting. Here’s guessing he doesn’t finish the year there.

Brian Harman’s 2018 Sundays (-2%): The diminutive left-hander now has five consecutive top-10s, and he’s rocketing up the Ryder Cup standings, but you can’t help but wonder how much better the start to his year might have been. In the final pairing each of the past two weeks, he’s a combined 1 under in those rounds and wasn’t much of a factor.

Tom Hoge (-3%): Leading by one and on the brink of a life-changing victory – he hadn’t been able to keep his card each of the past three years – Hoge made an absolute mess of the 16th, taking double bogey despite having just 156 yards for his approach. At least now he’s on track to make the playoffs for the first time.

Predicting James Hahn’s form (-4%): OK, we give up: He’d gone 17 events without a top-15 before his win at Riviera; 12 before his win at Quail Hollow; and seven before he lost on the sixth playoff hole at Waialae. The margins between mediocre play and winning apparently are THAT small.

Barnrat (-5%): Coming in hot with four consecutive top-10s, and one of only two team members ranked inside the top 50 in the world, Kiradech Aphibarnrat didn’t show up at the EurAsia Cup, going 0-3 for the week. In hindsight, the Asian team had no chance without his contributions. 

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Langer not playing to pass Irwin, but he just might

By Tim RosaforteJanuary 16, 2018, 1:40 pm

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.”

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McIlroy: Ryder Cup won't be as easy as USA thinks

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 16, 2018, 1:18 pm

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.”