Chamblee: My unpredictable year in review

By Brandel ChambleeDecember 29, 2014, 1:05 pm

A year ago, in a preview for 2014, I made the case for Tiger Woods winning more than one major championship. No huge insight on my part; he had won five times in 2013 and, given his past success at this year’s major venues, I didn't see who or what would stop him. Of course, injury stopped him and I suppose we all could've seen that coming, but he looked so good last year, all of us wanted him to pick up where he left off in 2008.

The game may not need him - in fact I know the game doesn't “need” him - but the game is invigorated by him like never before. Sure, you could argue Francis Ouimet’s win in 1913 was as important to the growth of the game, as were Bobby Jones and Ben Hogan, and most certainly Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. But think of all those greats as ever-ascending notes in an opera, and Tiger took the crescendo to the highest octave. None of us want 2008 to have been his swan song.

But even without Tiger winning majors this past year, 2014 was memorable for many reasons and historic for at least a few.

Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie did in a major what Tiger and Phil never have – they played in the final group together on Sunday and finished first and second, respectively. The talent from the Wie-Thompson pairing and the forecast that came from it gave the LPGA an adrenaline shot in the Kraft Nabisco Championship. Bubba Watson did what he had done before - he won the Masters, thanks to final-round drives at the eighth, ninth and 13th holes that were the beastly equivalent of the C-shaped wedge shot he hit to set up his win in 2012.

The poetic storyline of a Phil Mickelson victory at Pinehurst No. 2, paying homage to Payne Stewart and putting a bow on Phil’s career, proved too good to be true, which is exactly how one could describe the play of Martin Kaymer that week, as he won the U.S. Open by eight.

Butch Harmon proved again why he is the No. 1 teacher in the world. Previously gifted with colossally talented students such as Greg Norman and Tiger Woods, his work with Jimmy Walker and Rickie Fowler was perhaps the clearest example in teaching today of the impact simple thoughts can have on a player.

Patrick Reed, in saying he was a top-five player in the world before he actually was a top-five player in the world, did his best Ian Poulter imitation. (Poulter had previously said that when he reaches his full potential, “It will be just Tiger and me.”) I’ll say this, though: Reed is a hell of a lot closer to being a top-five player than Poulter ever was to being as good as Tiger. Regardless, we should thank both of these players for having the guts to say what they think, even when it is so contrary to reason. Golf clap to both Patrick and Ian and here’s hoping Patrick picks up where he left off in 2014.

Rory McIlroy won two more majors this year, but most interestingly, he won the third leg of the career Grand Slam, as Mickelson had done in 2013, except Phil was 43 years old. McIlroy was only 25, and when he gets to Augusta National in 2015, should he prevail, he will be the second-youngest to win all four majors. Like Tiger did for so many years, in 2014, Rory exceeded the hype.

Ted Bishop pushed “send” when he should have pushed “delete” in his overreaction, “Lil’ Girl” retort to a book-promoting tweet by the ever-chirping Poulter. Bishop reminded all of us of the quote about taking a lifetime to build a reputation and seconds to destroy one, truer now than ever with Twitter. Almost nobody believes Bishop meant to be demeaning to women, but nor could anyone believe that someone who spoke for so many could speak so poorly.

The Ryder Cup. Nothing bores me more than answering the question of why the United States plays so poorly in this event. This is a circular debate, as in the Americans lose because they don’t come together as a team, and they don’t come together as a team because they are selfish. None of these premises can be proven to support the conclusion, so we always end up right back where we started. What is not boring is watching the Ryder Cup, which is my favorite three days in golf. This year, we were treated to an encore performance by the hilarity of let’s play Blame the Captain.

First, let me say that I have lost track of the number of times I have said Phil Mickelson is a gift to golf - he is. He wins often and plays with a recklessness that is a throwback to Arnold Palmer, and in dealing with crowds and the media he once again gets compared with the King. But what he did in the media center on Sunday night of the Ryder Cup, implying it was Tom Watson’s fault the U.S. lost, was something Arnold Palmer never would've done. It made the American side look even worse, which I didn’t think was possible.

Hence the task force, which is easy to make fun. In theory, getting a group of guys together to brainstorm about how to build a stronger team is hard to argue with; however, the guys you put on that committee should've either showed a passion for the Ryder Cup or been hugely successful in it or, better yet, both. So they put Tiger and Phil and Jim Furyk on the team, who when you consider their stature in the game, are the three worst U.S. Ryder Cup players in history. This would be like letting the guys who punched holes in the boat be in charge of building a new boat. No Paul Azinger, no Dave Stockton, no Ben Crenshaw, no Jack Nicklaus, and pardon me if this seems maudlin in my recruitment of members for the task force, but one has to go back a decade or two to find Ryder Cup passion, intellect and success.

The last thing I am going to say about the Ryder Cup is this: Larry Nelson was promised the captaincy in 1995, didn’t get it and then got stepped over by lesser major winners. What does one typically need to be a Ryder Cup captain? To have won the PGA Championship? Check. He won that twice. How about the national open? Check. How about success in the Ryder Cup? In his first nine matches in the Ryder Cup, he was 9-0. Check. Respect of your peers? Check. For added measure, he served his country on the front lines of battle, willing to put his life on the line for the freedoms we all enjoy. Find those credentials in a player today; go ahead and look. Good luck. Larry Nelson has them all and to those of you who say he's out of touch with today’s players, well, I say to you: How have all those captains who are in touch with today’s players been doing? If there is such a thing as karma for not fulfilling a promise, the PGA of America and U.S. Ryder Cup team are feeling it.

One hundred years from now, when some historian is reading about the year in golf for 2014,  I doubt any of the above stories will be placed above the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews deciding after 260 years to allow women as members. It was long overdue, and when Karen Crouse of The New York Times properly called such clubs “corridors of power,” she crystalized a point I had been unable to make to those who simply said, "What’s the big deal? Men just want to play with men."

So that’s it for the year, at least for me as it relates to golf. I hope all of you have a great holiday season and that your predictions for the New Year are better than mine were for 2014.

Getty Images

Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

Getty Images

LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

Getty Images

Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

Getty Images

Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.