“You’ve never seen a person compete from the places he played from,” Tiger Woods said Tuesday.
Phil Mickelson, who also has a remarkable ability to escape from anywhere, recalled the time he played a practice round with Ballesteros at Torrey Pines when Lefty was still an amateur.
“I enjoyed that time with him because I saw his artistry,” Mickelson said.
Ballesteros, who died Saturday of a cancerous brain tumor, is to be buried Wednesday in his hometown of Pedrena, Spain.
Woods, who was born seven months before Ballesteros was the 54-hole leader at the 1976 British Open as a 19-year-old, never competed against the Spaniard during his prime.
“He would have been so much fun to watch and compete against that,” Woods said.
He did recall a few practice rounds, none more memorable than one year at the Masters with Ballesteros and Jose Maria Olazabal.
“Just to hear him explain how to hit shots around the Augusta … it was just artful,” Woods said. “Just the spin, and how much spin you need to put it here and where you need to land it, where it needs to kick, and the way he explained it, and what he needs to do with the body to do that with the hands.
“He looked like he didn’t try and do anything mechanical, but he had a few thoughts about what he needed to do. He just understood it.”
Mickelson specifically remembers the way Ballesteros played the par-3 11th on the South Course at Torrey Pines, when the pin was cut back and to the right. That’s typically a 5-iron or a 6-iron.
“He would take a 3-iron … a big 30- to 50-yard rounded slice that would land in the middle of the green and then side spin over to the hole,” Mickelson said. “It just opened my eyes how many different ways you can get to the some of these pins. And I loved watching that because it showed me that it’s possible, that it doesn’t have to be this robotic way of fairways, middle of the green and so forth.”
SOCCER AND GOLF: The competition got under way at The Players Championship before the golf did.
A group of European caddies and a few players have organized a soccer team called “Airmail Rovers AC” – no one can explain where that name came from – and they played a local pub team in Jacksonville on Monday night.
According to Golfweek magazine, the match ended in a 3-3 tie with a late goal. Among the top players for the golf team was Sergio Garcia, as was to be expected. And according to Alvaro Quiros, his fellow Spaniard, Garcia loves to control the action.
“Next time we play we need two balls,” Quiros said Tuesday in recounting the action. “One for Sergio, one for the rest of the team. We kept saying, ‘Pass it Sergio.’ I think I can see now why he plays golf.”
A week ago at the Wells Fargo Championship, Martin Kaymer and Rory McIlroy played against a Charlotte soccer club.
HOGAN PREDICTION: Upon his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame on Monday night, former Masters and PGA champion Doug Ford shared some golf history that might apply today.
When he turned pro, Ford said Ben Hogan was chairman of the players’ board and didn’t like that the top 15 players in a 150-man field were getting paid. Hogan suggested that only the top 10 get paid.
“I’m a rookie, 1950, and I’m saying, ‘Boy, that’s one tough cookie,”’ Ford said. “But they voted against him, and they made 15 money places. And Hogan said, ‘What you’re going to do is create a bunch of players that will stay out here and be exempt and never win.”’
That was more than 60 years ago.
The PGA Tour went to an all-exempt tour in 1983, and it’s probably become worse than what Hogan imagined. Three players have earned more than $10 million without ever having won on the PGA Tour.
“The more I look at the list now, he was as true as could be,” Ford said. “These guys can stay out there forever and never win, as long as they made the money cut.”
HAIR-RAISING DEVELOPMENT: Geoff Ogilvy was in a drug store last month when he saw a product designed to grow hair. Ogilvy has been losing so much from the top that he had about given up.
As a joke, he bought a can of the organic hair growth.
When he arrived at The Players Championship, his hair had grown enough for people to notice. It looked the way it did when he won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot five years ago.
“I wasn’t buying it to grow hair, I was buying it for a giggle,” Ogilvy said. “It’s organic. It can’t hurt me. At least, I don’t think it can hurt me.”
MAY OR MARCH: This is the fifth year The Players Championship has been played in early May, after behind held at the end of March just before the Masters. There was bent grass on the greens, and the rye overseed from the winter had not died.
It was a different golf course.
Some players are split on whether they’d like it better if it were still played in March.
“In my personal opinion, I don’t think they’ve got the setup quite right yet for the May date,” said Adam Scott, who won The Players in 2004 when it was in March. “With the different grass, I’d like to see them set it up a little differently. I’d like to see the rough cut down a lot more with the different grass here, get the ball running through. And we could do away with the thick rough.”
Luke Donald thought the course was harder in March. Then again, he first came to America to play at Northwestern and lived in the Chicago area until moving to South Florida. He said while the course can be firmer in May, the greens aren’t quite as fast.
“I kind of preferred it in March,” he said.
Ultimately, Scott said it really doesn’t matter.
“I think this is one of the best tournament courses in the world,” Scott said.
DIVOTS: Among players who attended the World Golf Hall of Fame ceremony was Chris Riley, who also brought his father. Riley wanted to see Ernie Els get inducted. … It has been five years since the 54-hole leader at The Players Championship went on to win. … The flag of the defending champion—South Africa for Tim Clark—usually flies in the circle of champions. Out of respect to Seve Ballesteros, Clark asked that the Spanish flag take its place. … Among the items Ernie Els put in his glass locker at the Hall of Fame was a notebook in which his wife, Leizl, used to chart the shot of Els and his playing partners at every major.
STAT OF THE WEEK: When Davis Love III won in 2003, 25 of the first 30 winners of The Players Championship had also won majors. In the last seven years, Phil Mickelson is the only major champion to win at Sawgrass.
FINAL WORD: “The golf course is too hard for me.”—Bubba Watson, on the TPC Sawgrass.