Mickelson, Els celebrate long road to 100th major

By Ryan LavnerAugust 8, 2017, 9:58 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – They walked into the media tent at the PGA Championship, past the commemorative yellow cake, but Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els might as well have stepped into a time machine Tuesday at Quail Hollow.

Pointing to a monitor, a PGA of America media official wasted little time in transporting Mickelson and Els back to 1984. The Junior Worlds in San Diego was the first time they’d ever met; the first time, in fact, that Els, who grew up just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, had ever been in the U.S.

Playing in the 14-year-old division, Els nipped Mickelson by three shots, and so there he stood, beaming and holding a trophy the size of his torso, his blonde hair glistening in the California sun.

“Do you see how grumpy Phil looks there?” Els said, chuckling.

It was quite an introduction on the world stage, and 33 years later, Mickelson can still recall, in vivid detail, the moment that he knew this tall kid named Ernest was going to be a force. Third hole, par 5, 20 yards short of the green, and Els hit a skipping, spinning pitch that checked a foot from the cup.

“I hadn’t seen anybody else at 14 hit that shot,” Mickelson said.

They’ve been dazzling each other ever since, compiling Hall of Fame careers despite crushing near-misses in majors, family challenges and the domineering presence of Tiger Woods.

Whether they wanted to relive all of that two days before the start of this PGA Championship, who knows, but on Tuesday they officially became the 13th and 14th members of golf’s 100 Major Club. “It’s amazing that we’ve played together and against each other for so many years,” Mickelson said. “It doesn’t seem that long ago from those days, but it sure looks like a long time ago.”

Mickelson made his major debut a year after Els, at the 1990 U.S. Open at Medinah. Competing as an amateur that week, Mickelson moved into contention on Sunday, just a few shots off the lead, but made a few late bogeys down the stretch and finished in a tie for 29th. Little did he know that was the start of three decades of U.S. Open torture.

Fortunately for Els, he didn’t endure much major heartbreak early in his career, and especially not in the U.S. Open. He won in 1994 in just his eighth major start, and then took the 1997 title, too. As Els replayed his heroics down the stretch – the pure iron shots, the knee-knocking putts – Mickelson stared blankly into the monitor.

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“I got the monkey off my back early on,” Els said.

For Mickelson, it took 47 tries to break through in a major, but that moment on the 18th green at Augusta was so significant that a silhouette of his victorious “leap” now serves as his personal logo. The player he beat that day in 2004? Of course it was Els, who was crushed, after thinking his Sunday 67 would be enough for his first green jacket. Eventually, Mickelson overtook Els in the major category, 5-4, but only after what he calls his “career-defining achievement” – The Open at Muirfield in 2013.

Surely, players of their immense talents would mop up against any other generation, but both competed in the middle of the Tiger Era. Woods’ dominance was so oppressive that it stunted the careers of every other player, but no one was affected more than Mickelson and Els.

Mickelson has long claimed that Woods did more for his career than any other player, because Woods pushed him to work harder, to begin a training regimen that increased his flexibility and, in turn, contributed to his longevity.

“I don’t think I would have had the same level of success had he not come around,” Mickelson said.

Els, though, can’t help but wonder. By the time Woods took the golf world by storm at the 1997 Masters, Els was already a major champion, and he would add to that tally two months later, at Congressional.

“I was ready to win quite a few, if you know what I mean,” Els said, “and him winning the Masters in the way he did, that threw me off a little bit. I thought I was really one of the top players, which I was, but that was a pretty special display of golf.”

And Els saw it over and over again – at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews and Kapalua. Els’ five runners-up to Woods in Tour events were the most of any of his opponents.

“I could have had a couple more, definitely, without him around,” Els said.

Is the Big Easy’s window closed? Now 47, like Mickelson, Els’ body has begun to break down and he has only five top-10s since 2013. He says he’s still hungry, and that he’s in the process of rebuilding his game, and that he’s rededicating himself, but that’s easier said than done.

Encouraging results are scarce and off-course interests consume more of his time. Last month, Els was named one of the four finalists for the Sports Humanitarian of the Year for his efforts to help children with autism, like his son, Ben.

“That’s the legacy that I see when I think of Ernie Els,” Mickelson said.

As for Mickelson, his priorities are changing, too. He says his family life has never been better, after health scares in 2010, but earlier this year he skipped the U.S. Open to attend his daughter’s commencement speech, and he parted ways with longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay.

Despite a few close calls over the past four years, Lefty hasn’t won since July 2013 – indeed, Woods has hoisted a trophy more recently – and conceded that his obstacles now are more mental than physical.

“Once that clicks in and I settle down and focus like I did, I think I’ll play at a level that I’ve played before,” he said. “I don’t feel that golf mortality. I feel excited about this challenge.”

Mickelson didn’t even realize this was his 100th major until he saw one of his sponsor’s websites last week. He did some quick math – 25 years, four majors a year, yep, that adds up – and shrugged. Jack Nicklaus’ record of 164 majors is safe.

“It just goes by so fast,” Mickelson said. “You don’t even think about it.”

He played along with PGA officials on Tuesday, going down memory lane, posing for photos, poking fun at Els’ cake-cutting technique. But during the half-hour obligation, it became abundantly clear that Mickelson and Els weren’t ready to look back, not yet. Not with so much still to play for.

Their victory laps can wait.

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.

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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.