DUBLIN, Ohio – Tom Lehman didn’t spend much time with John Wooden—just long enough to learn a few things that will last a lifetime.
Lehman was the Ryder Cup captain in 2006 when he met the former UCLA coach who died at the age of 99 on Friday.
Lehman came away humbled—and with a close friend.
“He was the ultimate teacher,” Lehman said Saturday after playing in the third round of the Memorial Tournament. “What little time I spent with him, it was obvious how much he loved the people that he taught, that he worked with. Our world is going to miss him.”
Lehman was the Ryder Cup captain. During a stop in February at Riviera, he arranged to meet with Wooden at his home.
“It was definitely one of the highlights in my life,” said Lehman, who won the 1996 British Open.
There was one crystalline point that the Wizard of Westwood conveyed to him.
“He looked me right in the eye and said, ‘Don’t be concerned about your image and your reputation. That’s who people think you are. The only thing that matters is your character, who you really are on the inside. Focus on that. Be more concerned about that,”’ the legendary coach said. “That’s the one thing I took from him. Because that’s the way he was. You talk about integrity, doing what you say you’re going to do, being who you really are. That was him. A man of incredible integrity and character.”
That was their only face-to-face meeting, although they spoke on the telephone a couple of times.
Lehman hated to impose on a man who would not have thought it an imposition.
“I feel like I didn’t want to take his time, even though I know that if I called him he would have said come on over,” Lehman said. “There’s so many people that he gave to, so many more people that he was way more involved with than me. I didn’t want to be one of those guys who just demanded his time. I was really, really impressed with that man.”
POPULAR PAIRING: Huge crowds followed the third-round grouping of Tiger Woods, Ricky Barnes and Dustin Johnson.
Barnes, of course, torched the Muirfield Village course for eight birdies and an eagle in a blistering 10-under 62 that left him tied for second, three shots back of leader Rickie Fowler. Johnson, another one of the top young players on tour, shot a 73.
Woods, playing in his first tournament after three weeks off due to a neck injury, followed a 72 with his second straight 3-under 69.
There were plenty of highlights and lowlights for the world’s No. 1-ranked player. So good was Barnes that Woods never had honors on the tee until the 13th hole.
He had five birdies to energize the many people shouting encouragement along the ropes, but also had a disastrous double-bogey 6 at the 10th. He sailed his drive far, far right—perhaps 50 yards right of the fairway—and into the backyard pond of a house that usually doesn’t enter into play.
Woods disgustedly flipped his driver after the shot and muttered under his breath. He quickly teed it up again and hit a provisional, then didn’t even walk over to where his first drive went because he knew it was out of bounds. Lying three in the middle of the fairway, he hit onto the green and two-putted from 55 feet.
He birdied the next two holes and two more after that.
Woods had eight pars on the front side, breaking up the monotony with an 18-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth.
He was walking toward the hole at No. 1 when his ball was headed for the cup, then stopped as it dipped in and out of the hole. He had birdie putts inside 15 feet on four straight holes starting at No. 3 and missed them all.
After his round, he declined to speak with reporters.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Vijay Singh, asked if he ate a lot on a day when there were two suspensions of play totaling 6 hours: “I don’t eat that much. I need to keep my figure, you know.”
TIGER TAUNTS: For the most part, the fans have been almost worshipful in their treatment of Tiger Woods, in spite of his highly publicized marital indiscretions.
But there were a couple of minor incidents during the third round.
After Tiger putted for birdie on the 14th hole, a spectator twice yelled, “Get in the water!” as the ball rolled toward the hole. The putt missed and Woods tapped in for par. The man quickly blended into the gallery.
Another fan yelled, “Big swing, Tiger. Big swinger. You’re the biggest swinger on tour,” as Woods walked to the seventh tee. A Dublin police officer walked over to where the man was standing and asked him to calm down.
Woods never looked the man’s way.
After completing his round, Woods signed his scorecard and then walked stone faced past a line of autograph-seekers.
“He’s a changed man,” a man said caustically—and loudly.
LONG DAY: Play was initially supposed to begin at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, but just before the first golfers could tee off it was pushed back by a line of thunderstorms. The delay eventually lasted 4 hours, 15 minutes. Later in the day, more rain and inclement weather stopped the proceedings for 1 hour, 44 minutes.
That meant that the last groups played in a deepening twilight.
“It’s been a long day for sure. I’m looking forward to turning in, relaxing, having some dinner,” said Justin Rose, who shot a 70 and was alone in fourth place, four shots back of Fowler. “It’s 20 to 9. I can’t remember the last time I played golf at 20 to 9 in the evening.”
DIVOTS: It was the fifth time Barnes (62) and Woods (69) have played together. Barnes has posted the lower score only twice, but overall is seven shots better. … Past champions Kenny Perry and Jim Furyk are tied for sixth, seven shots back. … Play has been suspended six times in the first three rounds, a record for the perennially weather-plagued tournament. … Phil Mickelson shot a 70 and then also declined to speak with reporters. … Seven of the top 11 players are in their 20s. … Furyk had six consecutive subpar rounds at the Memorial before shooting a 72. … Brendon de Jonge’s 65 was his lowest score on tour this season. … Argentina’s Andres Romero had a triple-bogey 8 at the 15th in the second round. A day later, he had an eagle 3 there.
Fowler holds 54-hole lead at Memorial - COPIED
DUBLIN, Ohio – Tom Lehman didn’t spend much time with John Wooden—just long enough to learn a few things that will last a lifetime.
Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.
Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.
“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.
“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.
“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”
Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.
He picked up his clubs three times.
That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.
This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.
Not that he was concerned, of course.
Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.
“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”
At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.
“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”
Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.
Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.
“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”
Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.
In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.
That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.
“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.
“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.
Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”
So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.
Despite results, Thomas loves links golf
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.
Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.
Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.
“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”
Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.
He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.
“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.
“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”
Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance
CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.
So much for that.
Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.
He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.
What’s the difference now?
“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.
“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”
Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.
“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”