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#AskLav: Swinging from Florida into Augusta

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Maybe I’ve temporarily lost my fastball, but this week I found it difficult to get fired up about Adam Scott’s collapse, Tiger Woods’ back or the Texas Two-Step. That tends to happen after losing a friend. 

I worked with Ron Balicki for 2 ½ years while at Golfweek. Man, the guy was a legend. At tournaments, young players would sign their card and go seek him out to talk. Coaches confided in him. Everyone gravitated to his kindness. When hotshot collegian Rickie Fowler announced that he was turning pro, the one and only reporter he called was Ron.

He loved telling their stories, and he did so with compassion. Zeal. Warmth. In 2010, he became the first non-coach to be inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame. In truth, he could have gone in two decades earlier without objection.

Ron died earlier this week at his Arkansas home. His mind was strong, but he had grown weak after battling cancer. He was only 65.

The only thing that Ron loved more than covering college golf was the people involved in the game. Superstars from powerhouse teams or benchwarmers from Division-III schools, it didn’t matter. If you had a story, Ron wanted to share it.

Covering this year’s NCAA Championship will be strange, no doubt. All of us will miss that familiar, raspy voice – Riiiight, riiiight – when talking to players, coaches, officials, parents.

This would have been Ron’s 30th consecutive NCAA final, and it was always one of the highlights of his year. The man was college golf. It’ll never be the same. 

Now, this week’s mailbag:

 

Only three players – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Horton Smith in 1934 – have ever won the Masters in their first apperance, but it would surprise little if Patrick Reed found himself in contention on the weekend at the Masters. He’s in familiar environs, he played the course as an amateur, and he’s unlikely to be fazed by the pomp and circumstance that usually derails Masters rookies. Many can recite the fact that Reed has won three of his last 15 starts, but it’s worth noting, too, that those victories are his only top 10s during that span. He’s the definition of a hit-or-miss talent, and his major debut could prove a home run if everything clicks.


 

 

Smart question, but don’t forget that there is a greater importance to the Official World Ranking than simply determining the No. 1 player in the world. It’s also used, among other things, to set the fields for majors; the top 50 after this week’s Valero Texas Open earns a spot in this year’s Masters.

But, since you asked, a two-year period is a better indicator of a player’s general form, through good times and bad, and one win will always be more valuable than eight missed cuts. Prior to this year, Tiger had won eight times in the past two seasons, far more than any other player, which is why he had such a big cushion atop the rankings. After some shoddy play, though, he’s now on the verge of losing his No. 1 spot by late March. There still is volatility. Seems fair to me. 


 

 

Back injuries can be funny, and not in the ha-ha sense. They can act up at any time, without warning, even after being cleared by a doctor. Tiger could play pain-free for the rest of the year … or he could hit his opening tee shot at Augusta, keel over and shut it down for the rest of the season. The only way that Woods will skip the Masters is if he deems the risk of re-injury too great, which certainly is possible. He has never missed the year’s first major, even when his personal life was in tatters, but if he does now then we’ll know that his injury is far more serious than he’s letting on. 


Instagram#AskLav: Is the par-3 12th at Augusta the hardest par 3 in major tournament play? And why? Swirling winds or the pressure of the moment? – Mike Hallee, via Instagram

Absolutely. The 12th is far narrower than it appears on television, so any gust of wind or surge of adrenaline could send a tee ball either into the back bunker or Rae’s Creek. That tee shot – with only a pitching wedge or 9-iron – demands a surgeon’s precision, which is no easy task on Sunday afternoon with a green jacket at stake. 


 

 

Considering that the R&A was a male-only institution for 260 years, that it didn’t previously yield to political and social pressure, golf fans should simply be glad that it appears set to open its doors to women. Finally. In the future – whether that is in five, 10, 50, 100 years – there seems little doubt that the private clubs will eventually invite women to join, that the R&A will sponsor a women’s amateur event, etc. This was a massive leap, the Advil for a p.r. headache, but let’s take it one step at a time. 


Instagram#AskLav: Will this kidney stone I’m passing help with my right-to-left trajectory? – Stantonit, via Instagram

Well, um, after the excruciating pain passes, a better option might be closing your feet line.