Spieth stresses focus as ever-changing scrutiny swirls

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 15, 2015, 10:38 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Tiger Woods has come to understand how it works. Now Jordan Spieth is learning all about the modern, 24/7, hyper-social sports media culture.

After all, talk shows need something to discuss for all of those hours … and websites need something to put on all of these blank pages … and social-media managers need something to type with 140 characters or less.

And so earlier this month, when Spieth missed consecutive cuts for the first time in his brilliant career, he scrolled through his Twitter and Instagram feed, past the posts about his beloved Longhorns and Cowboys, and stumbled upon a few pictures of himself. There was a theme: He was annoyed, frustrated, tired.

“It’s actually amazing the amount of pictures photographers must take to get these crazy reactions that randomly you don’t think anybody is around that you’re giving and they capture it,” he said.

Here he smiled.

“It’s not the most flattering of pictures that happen when you’re not playing well.”

And after one of the best major seasons ever, no, Spieth has not played well during this playoff run. Poor opening rounds on tough golf courses have left him with too much work to make up, and as a result he has missed two cuts in a row for the first time as a pro. 

On his personal panic meter, the early exits at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank rate pretty low. He took some time off, attended a few football games, and after a little work says he feels “very confident about where I’m at right this second.”

Can’t blame him, because even after his recent struggles, the two-time major winner is still guaranteed to be among the top five players in the FedEx Cup standings next week at East Lake, giving him a clear shot at the $10 million bonus.


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And besides, Spieth joked that there’s no way his oh-fer can continue here outside Chicago – there is no cut with only a 70-man field.

“I’m happy to be checking into my hotel, and when they ask what day I’m checking out, I can say, ‘I’m checking out on Sunday,’” he said.  

But Spieth’s social-media experience offered a glimpse into a professional athlete’s mindset in these rapidly changing times. The question that prompted all of this was whether he was aware of the “What’s Wrong with Jordan Spieth?!” chatter that has been so prevalent on TV, websites and social media over the past week and a half.

“I’m not aware of the specifics of what Joe sitting on his couch in Montana thinks about my golf game,” he said Tuesday, “but it’s interesting how it’s a what-can-you-do-for-me-now? kind of thing when the spotlight is on. I’m that way with sports teams, so why can’t people be that way with me?”

Now this is where it really gets good, when he brings in the rest of the Tour’s new world order, with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.

“Everyone has their opinions, and the hardest thing for me to do is to not react to that and just to say, you know what, two weeks ago, everyone said, ‘You’re the best there is. You’re awesome, man.’ Not a bad thing said. And then Jason wins, and it’s ‘Jason is the best in the world, man. He’s awesome.’

“And then Rickie wins. Rickie wasn’t even what you guys were talking about. You guys were talking about me, Rory and Jason. Rickie wins, and all of a sudden people are coming out of their igloos and they’re saying, ‘Man, that’s my guy. He’s the best in the world.’ It’s just, what can you do for me now?”

He’s right, of course. In this hot-take, pageview- and ratings-driven world, there’s little room for perspective and thoughtful analysis. Patience? Puh-leeze. 

McIlroy made his own observations about the ever-changing narratives during his eight-week break because of injury.

Last year, he was alone at the top.

Then, during the summer, it was Rory and Jordan.

And now? Well, it’s a three- or four-pronged attack, depending on whether you want to lump in the majorless Fowler with the newly formed Big 3. 

“We live in such a world that everything is so reactionary and everything happens so quickly,” McIlroy said at the PGA. “Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years. With social media and everything having to be instant, it’s the world that we live in.”

Indeed, Spieth, McIlroy and the rest of the Tour’s new stars are simply getting a taste of what Woods has dealt with his entire career.

Even the most scrutinized golfer of all time recently weighed in on the sport’s shifting dynamics: “We didn’t have a Tiger Tracker where everything is tweeted about every shot I hit and where it’s placed. Trust me, I hit some shots and I went through some rounds where it was really bad, but nothing was reported. So things are scrutinized a little bit differently than when I sent through some certain parts of my career, but that is the day and age we live in.”

It’d be reasonable to expect a letdown from Spieth after he became only the third player in history to record top-4 finishes in all four majors, but he swears he’s not dealing with a major hangover.

He was asked the same questions after the Masters, The Players and the U.S. Open. Each time, he responded.

“There wasn’t a letdown this year,” he said. “I just had two bad weeks.”

So, no, his world wasn’t crashing down, and no, the situation wasn’t nearly as bad as his Twitter mentions and Instagram posts would lead you to believe.  

Spieth realizes now that there is only way to stay "relevant" these days: continue to play great golf.

“You just need to keep your head down, stay focused,” he said, “and try and be the guy that people are talking about next week.” 

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''


Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship


First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.