Scott-Williams reunion yielding big dividends

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2015, 7:58 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – So how did Adam Scott persuade Steve Williams to come out of retirement and caddie in these four summer events?

Flattery, of course.

“I don’t really want to have to say how great he is,” Scott said with a smile Friday, “but I did butter him up a little bit.”

Their success was undeniable: They teamed together for four years, for 12 top-15 finishes in 15 majors, for a memorable Masters victory, for three other PGA Tour wins, for the rise to world No. 1. But wanting different things at different points in their lives – Scott wanted a full-time looper; Williams, who turned 51 last winter, wanted to race cars and coach rugby – they split last September.

During the fall, Scott held tryouts for his next bagman, seeing what he liked, and what he did not, and who could provide the same spark as Williams. Eventually, last December, he hired veteran looper Mike Kerr, but they never really jelled. Not like he had with Williams.

This year, Scott played eight events and only once finished inside the top 20 – the kind of slump he never had endured with Williams on the bag. As Scott wandered through a listless season, in the prime of his career at age 35, Williams was back in New Zealand, completely removed from the game. When asked how closely he tracked his former employer’s results over the past few months, Williams said, “I don’t follow golf. Don’t watch it. Couldn’t tell you one thing. I don’t watch golf. Never have, never will.”

Scott said that, like any old friends, he checked in every so often: “But it wasn’t like I was calling him every day.” Besides, Williams was adamant that nothing could bring him out of retirement.

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But one of the many things Williams taught Scott over the years was that, “if you don’t ask, you’ll never get.” And so finally, with his world ranking tumbling out of the top 10, and his putting statistics nearly last on Tour, Scott made the desperate phone call.

“I was begging and pleading for him to come out here,” he said. “Unfortunately I have to admit that.”

What helped persuade Williams to return was the fact that this year’s Open was being held at St. Andrews, where he guided Tiger Woods to decisive victories in 2000 and ’05. After a few long chats, Williams gave his old boss the OK.

“Then,” Scott said, “I had to go practice really hard so I was going to play as good as he’d expect.”

The move paid immediate dividends, as Scott closed with 64 at Chambers Bay to backdoor a top-5 finish at the U.S. Open. And now here at the Open, Scott is in line for yet another run at the claret jug, the one that got away in 2012, when he finished with four consecutive bogeys at Royal Lytham to hand the title to Ernie Els, the beginning of three consecutive top-5s at the year’s third major.

“I’m very motivated,” he said. “I definitely let that one slip, and I would love to be sitting here having won the Open … I think I’m playing with a little bit of a chip on my shoulder."

Williams appears motivated, too. At 5:30 a.m. Friday, and with only one other caddie in sight, he trudged out on the Old Course to chart the day’s pins. The process takes about an hour, and while on his way back toward the range, he got caught in the biblical storm that dropped several inches of rain and forced a three-hour delay.

“I was thinking there’s just no way we can be playing golf today,” he said. “I stood on No. 2 fairway and watched it flood in seven minutes. You couldn’t walk into the wind.”

Fortunately for Scott, the conditions weren’t quite as severe by the time he stepped to the first tee. Fighting a steady 20-mph breeze all day, he missed only one green en route to a bogey-free 67 that moved him only two strokes off the clubhouse lead.

His best two shots of the day came on the Road Hole, which finally yielded a few birdies Friday after the opening-round oh-fer. Scott’s drive that sailed over the last ‘L’ on the Old Course Hotel sign elicited a few gasps from the gallery, but he knew the strike and the line – the farthest right he could comfortably go – were perfect. With 196 yards to the flag, and just 176 to the front edge, it’s normally a stock 6-iron shot. But with a strong right-to-left wind, Scott “chipped” a 4-iron that trundled onto the green and settled about 20 feet from the flag.

“That was a very pleasing shot,” he said.

Scott nearly drove 18, and after two swats with that familiar broomstick putter, he was in the house with a flawless round, his name once again near the top of the big yellow leaderboard.

Yep, it’s just like old times, and Scott marveled at how “it feels like we’ve really hit our stride quickly.”

Good thing, because the stakes couldn’t be any higher during this three-major sprint, and their time together is running out, and both men are keenly aware of the history here, of the list of Open winners on the most revered links in the world. From Snead to Nicklaus to Ballesteros to Faldo to Woods, no course in the world has crowned elite winners quite like the Old Course.

“It’s just a golf course that requires complete control of your game,” Williams said, “and the best players in the world are the guys that have all the shots and have the complete control of their game. This course has never produced any unusual winners. St. Andrews is a great course, it’s had great champions, and this year will be nodifferent.”

The only question now is whether the Aussie can join them.

Toward the end of a Stevie-centric news conference, Scott was asked what could have been an uncomfortable question:

If Williams is not on your bag this week, are you sitting here right now?

“I’d like to think so for my own sake,” he replied, “but it was the right call for me to make at this point in the year, to get him back out and instill a bit of confidence in my game and get back in that flow.”

And now, with the team back together, everything feels possible again.  

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by paints a different picture.

Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.