Its a Prime Time For Champions

By David Marr IiiNovember 15, 2004, 5:00 pm
2004 UBS CupYouth is no longer wasted on the young.
In three brief years the UBS Cup has become a celebration set in an international team competition. It is a festival of personalities and golf skills that have withstood lifes maddening balance. Mind and body, that fragile mix vital to any champion, are at odds in the natural process of aging. As a golfer matures the mental aspects of his game improve while his physical skills diminish. Understanding different shots and situations, learning to control emotions and pressure help mold a champion, yet these experiences are accumulated while strength, flexibility and reflexes ebb.
An exception to this rule is Jack Nicklaus whose preternatural strength of mind led to his 1962 U.S. Open victory as a 22 year old. His first PGA Tour win was a major championship, as was his last, the 1986 Masters, where Nicklaus willed his body to recapture its youth for nine holes closing in 30 for a one stroke victory.
Since that magical week at Augusta professional golfers have increasingly used advancements in nutrition and exercise to help stave off the aging cycle, keeping themselves in much better shape throughout their careers. Those wise minds are finding much more receptive physiques, and the result is better golf being played throughout golfers 40s, 50s and even approaching their 60s. Nowhere is this better exemplified than on the Champions Tour, where the celebration evident at the UBS Cup is on display weekly in a stroke play format. The golfers on each team have made their mark on the tour, or are waiting for their chance to do so.
On the U.S. team, captain Arnold Palmer is still the charismatic soul of the tour, and he constantly sees remarkable competition among his Champions Tour peers. Hale Irwin secured his second Charles Schwab Cup this year earning the most points in a season long competition. The 59-year-old proved that aside from a few aches and pains, he hasnt slowed a step in a decade on the Champions Tour. The runner-up in that competition was Craig Stadler. Stadler is still eligible to play on the PGA Tour next year by virtue of his win at the 2003 B.C. Open. The only other man to win on the PGA Tour and Champions Tour in the same season was Raymond Floyd in 1992. He and Jay Haas are the only players to compete in the Ryder Cup past their 50th birthdays.
The youngsters on the U.S. team have shown remarkable competitive longevity while awaiting their opportunity on the Champions Tour. Gallery favorite Fred Couples won at the 2003 Shell Houston Open then had a stretch of three top ten finishes in four events this season. Scott Hoch also won in 2003, capturing the Ford Championship at Doral. Curtis Strange and Hal Sutton have devoted extensive portions of their careers recently to captaining the U.S. Ryder Cup team in 2002 and 2004 respectively, but each man has shown excellent form as well.
The Rest of the World team has also seen spirited play of late as well as considerable Champions Tour success. Captain Gary Players victory at the 2000 Senior Skins game, marked his 6th consecutive decade with a win. On his team he finds perhaps the hottest golfer on the Champions Tour, Mark McNulty. The elegant Zimbabwean closed out his rookie year with three wins including the final two events of the year. Sam Torrance, the lovable Scottish rascal, thrilled American galleries in 2004 but found the time away from his wife and children unbearable and headed back to Great Britain after some impressive Champions Tour appearances. Carl Masons limited Champions Tour exposure included a playoff loss to Tom Watson at the 2003 Senior British Open. Mason has been the leading money winner in each of his two years on the European counterpart to the Champions Tour.
Captain Player also has stellar international team match players at his disposal who have not yet reached their 50th birthday. Starting with Colin Montgomerie, certainly one of the greatest Ryder Cup players in history he was the backbone of victorious teams in 2002 and 2004. Bernhard Langer was not only a great Ryder Cup player but captained the team to its widest margin of victory ever and won two Masters as well. Another Masters champion with an impeccable Ryder Cup record who must be relishing another chance at the American team is Welshman Ian Woosnam, destined to follow Torrance and Langer as a Ryder Cup captain one day.
Present and future Champions Tour players meet at Kiawah Island, site of the 1991 Ryder Cup to once again compete for national pride with personalities that are familiar to all golf fans. Though a few years removed from their glory days on the PGA and European Tours, attention to nutrition and exercise ensures that they arent very far removed from their competitive primes at all.
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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”

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    Rory looking for that carefree inner-child

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:28 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eleven years later, Rory McIlroy cringes at the photo: the yellow sweater with the deep V-neck, the chubby cheeks and the messy mop that curled under his cap.

    “You live and you learn,” he said Wednesday, offering a wry smile.

    The last time McIlroy played at a Carnoustie Open, in 2007, he earned the Silver Medal as the low amateur. He tied for 42nd, but the final result had mattered little. Grateful just to have a spot in the field, courtesy of his European Amateur title, he bounced along the fairways, soaking up every moment, and lingered behind the 18th green as one of his local heroes, Padraig Harrington, battled one of his favorite players, Sergio Garcia. Waiting for the trophy presentation, he passed the time playing with Padraig’s young son, Paddy. On Wednesday, McIlroy spotted Paddy, now 15, walking around Carnoustie with his three-time-major-winning father.

    “He’s massive now – he towers over me,” he said. “It’s so funny thinking back on that day.”

    But it’s also instructive. If there’s a lesson to be learned from ’07, it’s how carefree McIlroy approached and played that week. He was reminded again of that untroubled attitude while playing a practice round here with 23-year-old Jon Rahm, who stepped onto each tee, unsheathed his driver and bombed away with little regard for the wind or the bounce or the fescue. McIlroy smiled, because he remembers a time, not too long ago, that he’d attack a course with similar reckless abandon.

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    “I just think, as you get older, you get a little more cautious in life,” said McIlroy, 29. “I think it’s only natural. There’s something nice about being young and being oblivious to some stuff. The more I can get into that mindset, the better I’ll play golf.”

    And so on the eve of this Open, as he approaches the four-year anniversary of his last major title, McIlroy finds himself searching for a way to channel that happy-go-lucky 18-year-old who was about to take the world by storm, to tap into the easygoing excellence that once defined his dominance.

    It’s been a year since he first hinted at what he’s been missing. Last year’s Open at Royal Birkdale was the final event of his long run with caddie J.P. Fitzgerald. The chief reason for the split, he said, had nothing to do with some of the questionable on-course decisions, but rather a desire to take ownership of him game, to be freed up alongside one of his best friends, Harry Diamond.

    That partnership has produced only one victory so far, and over the past few months, McIlroy has at times looked unsettled between the ropes. It’s difficult to compute, how someone with seemingly so much – a résumé with four majors, a robust bank account, a beautiful wife – can also appear disinterested and unmotivated.

    “I think sometimes I need to get back to that attitude where I play carefree and just happy to be here,” he said. “A golf tournament is where I feel the most comfortable. It’s where I feel like I can 100 percent be myself and express myself. Sometimes the pressure that’s put on the top guys to perform at such a level every week, it starts to weigh on you a little bit. The more I can be like that kid, the better.”

    It’s a decidedly different landscape from when the erstwhile Boy Wonder last won a major, in summer 2014. Jordan Spieth had won just a single Tour event, not three majors. Dustin Johnson wasn’t world No. 1 but merely a tantalizing tease, a long-hitting, fast-living physical freak who was just beginning a six-month break to address "personal challenges." Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka hadn’t even started playing in the States.  

    McIlroy’s greatest asset, both then and now, was his driving – he put on clinics at Congressional and Kiawah, Hoylake and Valhalla. He was a mainstay at or near the top of the strokes gained: tee to green rankings, but over the past few years, because of better technology, fitness and coaching, the gap between him and the rest of the field has shrunk.

    “I think at this stage players have caught up,” Harrington said. “There’s many players who drive the ball comparable and have certainly eaten into that advantage. Rory is well on pace to get into double digits with majors, but it has got harder. There’s no doubt there’s more players out there who are capable of having a big week and a big game for a major. It makes it tough.”

    It’s not as though McIlroy hasn’t had opportunities to add to his major haul; they’ve just been less frequent and against stronger competition. In the 13 majors since he last won, he’s either finished in the top 10 or missed the cut in 11 of them. This year, he played in the final group at the Masters, and was on the verge of completing the career Grand Slam, before a soul-crushing 74 on the last day. His U.S. Open bid was over after nine holes, after an opening 80 and a missed cut during which he declined to speak to reporters after both frustrating rounds.

    “I’m trying,” he said Wednesday. “I’m trying my best every time I tee it up, and it just hasn’t happened.”

    A year after saying that majors are the only events that will define the rest of his career, he recently shrugged off the doom and gloom surrounding his Grand Slam drought: “It doesn’t keep me up at night, thinking, If I never won another major, I can’t live with myself.”

    Eleven years ago, McIlroy never would have troubled himself with such trivial questions about his legacy. But perhaps a return to Carnoustie, to where his major career started, is just what he needs to unlock his greatness once again.


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    Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

    Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

    The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

    Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

    Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.