The Man from Franklin

By Adam BarrSeptember 27, 2008, 4:00 pm
Ah, smell that fall air. The leaves are turning, the apples are coming in. And its time to think about golfs story of the year.
Nothing against the remaining tournaments on the schedule, but the pace slows appreciably after the Ryder Cup. This year especially, with the FedEx Cup winner decided early, Tiger Woods not playing in the Tour Championship, and no other substantial competitions coming, were definitely in the cool-down that follows the hard run of the mid-season.
Kenny Perry
Kenny Perry achieved his dream and more this season. (Getty Images)
No one could be blamed for setting up the Tiger U.S. Open saga as a lock for story of the year. With Rocco Mediate as an engaging co-star and Tigers ACL as the villain (and later, the stress fractures tossed in for added evil), this is a hard one to beat. Another good entry is Anthony Kim, with his two wins, his Ryder Cup performance, and his immense confidence in a world that everyone else seems to have handed over to Tiger. Off-course, theres the whole LPGA/English language fiasco.
But in this year of nominations and elections, my candidate is Kenny Perry.
Heres a guy whos more regular than the gas you used to put in a 69 Camaro. At age 48, he has about as many miles on him, too. Not a classic golf swing, to be sure ' but a very effective right-to-left trajectory. Talk about confidence, though. While we were all watching football games and nursing hangovers New Years Day, Perry was setting a goal. He would make the Ryder Cup team, play in front of his home crowd in Kentucky ' and contribute. He knew it was likely his last chance at this kind of accomplishment, and he took it.
And look what happened. Perry succeeded in a way that has to warm the heart of any true sports fan. But what Kenny Perry understood first and best, so well that he had to wait for the rest of the golf and sports world to catch up, is that setting a goal has a down side. It involves sacrifice. It requires you to smile (sometimes grimace) and ignore the golf pundits, gathered in groups like Saturday foursomes backed up on the first par-3 on an overcrowded Muni. They presumed to harangue Perry for not playing in major championships when he knew it would be better to skip them to manage his schedule toward the goal. You think Perry didnt want to play in our national championship? Sure, he doesnt like the course at Torrey Pines. But the man is as big a patriot as golf has; he understood very well the American pride that attaches to a U.S. Open. But the goal, the single-minded goal
He would not waver, not even when the worst rub-of-the-green of the season robbed him of a chance at victory in Atlanta. In a playoff against Ryuji Imada, Perrys ball rocketed right (what?), hit a tree, and motorcycled across the green and into the pond by the 18th green. Perry was left to stand in the fairway, asking caddie Fred Sanders, Where is it? Where is it? while the TV microphones picked up the shock in his voice. Afterward, he beat a hasty retreat from the scoring trailer with his wife Sandy, needing a moment to compose himself before meeting the press. Dream over, right? Thanks for playing.
Not on your Kentucky life. Two weeks later, Perry was hoisting the trophy at Muirfield Village, winner of the Jack Nicklauss Memorial Tournament over a windy, difficult golf course that he still managed to carve up with that aggressive draw and a solid week of putting. He was driving the ball like Kenny Perry again, confidently and in the fairway and longer than he had 20 years ago. And when he had to make putts, he did. He shot 69 the final day and survived a bogey on 17; this after a disheartening, bogey-pocked 74 in Saturdays third round.
And that was just the beginning. He was ready near Detroit when Woody Austin faltered, and he notched his second win at the Buick Open. He felt the pressure of a rapidly moving calendar at the John Deere, but stepped up anyway, beating Jay Williamson and Brad Adamonis in a playoff for his third trophy of the year. It was the second time in his career he has won three tournaments in a season (2003).
Open Championship? No thanks; dont need the travel. And Kenny had committed to Milwaukee the same week (he won there in 2003). Man of his word. At the PGA Championship in Detroit (heck; thats close enough to Kentucky), his only major of the year, Perry had an eye problem that was bad enough to make him withdraw ' this with the Ryder Cup, his goal, in sight, and his position on the team secured. What if he did all that work ' and had to sit because of he scratched cornea while taking out a contact lens? The feeling in the pit of his stomach must have been dismal.
Not that we ever knew. He never complained. He never bemoaned bad breaks. He never crowed about his progress. Through a happy accident of the schedule, I was the lead Golf Channel reporter at all three of his victories this year. If we reporters asked him about his goals, he would tell us, proudly. But otherwise, it was the usual quiet, pleasant Kenny. Off weeks back in Franklin, Ky., working the counter at his golf course, spending family time, and piling on smiles in the little town where hes a hero but doesnt act like one. No swing doc, no head guy, no entourage. Just Kenny.
Its so rare in sports these days, this lack of self-importance, as to be quaint. Were so conditioned, so resigned to overblown salaries, $9 beers at the stadium, endorsements, seat licenses and such that a guy just setting a goal and doing the work is an anomaly.
Call it an anomaly if you want. I call it an example.
Email your thoughts to Adam Barr
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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson


9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari


5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick


5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello