New Name New Faces Great Year
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Tom Watson captured two major titles on the Champions Tour, won the money title and took the year-long Charles Schwab Cup and the $1 million annuity that comes with it.
Watson won the Senior British Open and the Tradition but his record in the other majors is also astonishing. He tied for 17th at the Senior PGA Championship, finished second at the U.S. Senior Open and tied for second at the Senior Players Championship.
In 14 starts on the elder-50 tour, Watson finished outside the top-17 once, a tie for 31st at the Toshiba Senior Classic. He was in the top-10 in driving distance (eighth), greens in regulation (seventh), putting average (second) and led the tour in eagles and scoring average.
Watson's success in 2003 was not limited to the Champions Tour. He held the first-round lead at the U.S. Open at Olympia Fields before tying for 28th place. Watson also tied for 18th at the British Open.
All of the riches Watson experienced this year, he did it with a heavy heart. His caddie and longtime friend Bruce Edwards is dying in front of his eyes due to ALS, a crippling disease that has whittled Edwards' body but not his spirit.
Edwards shared in the spotlight when Watson shocked the golf world at the U.S. Open. Galleries chanted his name and Watson played up to the challenge. Watson said that people in the stands handed him checks for thousands of dollars for research for ALS. Their partnership and Watson's outstanding play in big events, have done more for the disease than any public-service commercial.
To no one's surprise, Watson donated his $1 million annuity to various ALS charities. For all Watson endured in 2003, coupled with the way he stood over the rest of the tour, Tom Watson is the Champions Tour Player of the Year.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Craig Stadler was the only other player that could be considered for Player of the Year, so it makes sense for 'The Walrus' to be the 2003 Rookie of the Year.
In his debut on the Champions Tour, Stadler tied for 15th at the Senior PGA Championship at a tough Aronimink track. He tied for 10th place at the U.S. Senior Open, then broke through at the Senior Players Championship for win No. 1 on tour.
He added two titles late in the year and tied for ninth at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
As good as Watson was on the PGA Tour, Stadler was even better. He returned to the PGA Tour a week after winning the Senior Players and became the first player in history to go back and win on the PGA Tour when he titled at the B.C. Open.
TOURNAMENT OF THE YEAR
The Senior British Open became a major for the first time in 2003 and it was a doozy. The combatants were Tom Watson, winner of several major titles and member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and Carl Mason, European Tour journeyman with two victories.
Watson bogeyed the 72nd hole on Sunday to post a 64 but seemed like all hope was gone. Mason, standing on the 18th tee, held a two-shot lead but collapsed, starting in a bunker after his drive. He had to chip out sideways but he hit too hard and it went into the gallery. Mason finally reached the green in four but two-putted for double-bogey and the pair were headed to a playoff.
The duo parred the first extra hole, the 18th, but Mason once again made a mess of it with the second playoff hole. He drove into another fairway bunker, chipped out, advanced his third a few feet, and reached the green in four.
Watson was calmly on in regulation and left himself with a tap-in par.
Watson seemed destined to win the Senior British Open after coming so close in the season's three other majors. His successful run at the U.S. Open, his close relationship with his struggling caddie, and his past triumphs in British Opens (five claret jugs), all made Watson a logical and emotional favorite to win.
Through the first 16 tournaments of the 2003 season, there were 16 different winners on the Champions Tour. Talk about parity. But after Bruce Lietzke captured the U.S. Senior Open, the number of multiple winners began to pile up.
Tom Watson, Hale Irwin, Craig Stadler and Jim Thorpe all came on to win at least twice in 2003 but Stadler was the only player to win three times.
One of the highlights every year is to see which rookies make an impact on the Champions Tour. D.A. Weibring and Craig Stadler both won on tour but they were the only first-year guys to make any waves.
What will be problematic for the elder circuit is next year. Keith Fergus, Mike Reid and 1999 European Ryder Cup captain Mark James are some of the names but the two biggest who are eligible might not come to the tour.
Jay Haas turns 50 in early December but he tallied eight top-10s, was selected to play in the Presidents Cup and finished 15th on the PGA Tour's money list.
Peter Jacobsen, whose charm and sense of humor would make him a natural fit on the laid-back Champions Tour, broke back into the winner's circle on tour when he captured the Greater Hartford Open.
Neither is sure what they will do next year, but both have indicated they will spend some time on the PGA Tour but when it comes down to it, they will spend some time on the Champions Tour. Fifty-four hole tournaments on easier courses will appeal to these guys more than anything else.
Jim Thorpe. Thorpe won the huge purse with the Charles Schwab Cup Championship to finish second on the money list. Since the Senior Players Championship in early July, Thorpe recorded 10 top-10s in 13 events.
Des Smyth. Smyth, an Irishman who won Q-School last year, finished 18th on the money list thanks to 10 top-10s. Although he didn't win in his rookie campaign, Smyth finished in the top-30 in almost every statistical category.
Mark Lye. Lye, who spent most of 2003 in the studios at the Golf Channel while battling cancer, played in only six events but made respectable showings in all six. With a full season under his belt, and his health back to form, Lye could be a top-25 guy on the Champions Tour.
Ben Crenshaw. This two-time Masters winner has not figured out the Champions Tour. In his second season, Crenshaw finished 58th on the money list with two top-10s.
Tom Kite. Hard to say a guy had a bad year with 12 top-10s and a sixth on the money list but Kite, who led the tour in greens in regulation, is at a stage in his career where multiple wins a season is not unrealistic. Zero wins in 2003 makes it a bad year.
Jan Stephenson. Stephenson became the first woman to play on the Champions Tour when she teed it up at the Turtle Bay Championship. She tied for last place, did nothing for the game and insulted almost every player on her tour, the LPGA Tour, with her ill-advised comments about Asian players ruining the tour.
The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros
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:
Once we give 'em a lesson, we are faced with:— Trackman Maestro (@TrackmanMaestro) January 16, 2018
A. Will they do what we asked them to do
B. Can they do what we asked them to do
C. Will they put in the practice time
D. The fact that golf is a hard game
We face multiple barriers as golf instructors.
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.
Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field
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.
Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder
Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.
“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”
After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).
Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129.
The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.
Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder
LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.
Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.
''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''
Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.
''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''
Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.
Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.
''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''
Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.
''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''
The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.
''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''
Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.
''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.
The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.
''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.
He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.
Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.
''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''
Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.
''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''
Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.