Big Easy taking it easy on travel

By Doug FergusonJanuary 14, 2010, 6:18 pm

2007 Sony Open

HONOLULU – Ernie Els came all the way from Florida to a small island in the Pacific Ocean to start his PGA Tour season in the Sony Open. Even for a globe-trotter like Els, it seems like a long way to go for one tournament.

Then again, the Big Easy most likely will not be making as many big trips this year.

The most global golfer of his generation, Els sounds as though he finally is going to make good on his promise to cut back his enormous travel schedule as he pursues trophies and appearance money across the world.

Els has played at least two tournaments in Asia – Dubai, Qatar, even India one time – since he resumed playing the Match Play Championship in 2006. This year, he won’t be leaving America.

The 40-year-old South African is now fully involved at his new home in south Florida having moved from London. His 10-year-old daughter, Samantha, is playing soccer, volleyball and basketball. His 7-year-old son, Ben, is making progress with autism.

“I’m not going to travel around as much this year,” Els said Wednesday. “I’m not going to the Middle East, so I can play a bigger schedule in the U.S. through the Masters.”

Instead of Qatar and Dubai, the Big Easy plans to be at Torrey Pines and Riviera. He might even throw Pebble Beach into the mix before heading to Arizona for the Match Play. Then, it’s off to Florida to play the entire swing except for Tampa. Els is a past champion at Honda, Doral and Bay Hill.

None of this would have been possible had he not moved to Florida.

“It was a very east start for me in the Middle East because it’s so close to South Africa,” he said. “You just fly to Dubai. But ever since we made this change to Florida, it seems like my international schedule, it’s really difficult to do from Florida. That’s why we lived in England for 10 or 11 years. It’s easy to get anywhere in the world within 12 hours.

“It’s difficult to do a Florida-to-Dubai trip, which is 16 to 18 hours, and then come back and try to be half-normal when you come back. It takes you two weeks to get back. The last two years, we’ve been talking about it.”

Ideally, Els would have been in Hawaii for two weeks. However, he failed to win last year for the first time in 20 years – not just the PGA Tour, but anywhere in the world – and thus was not eligible for the winners-only start at Kapalua.

As for the rest of the year?

Els turned 40 last fall. He looks around Waialae and sees Vijay Singh at age 46, Retief Goosen about to turn 41. He looks at the landscape of the PGA Tour and recognizes Phil Mickelson turning 40 this year. He also sees a lot of faces he doesn’t know, finding himself staring at the stitching on golf bags to figure out who some of these guys are.

Playing a practice round Tuesday with Bob Estes, they began talking about generation changes in 10 years. He has been through two of those cycles now.

Even so, Els is as optimistic about the year as everyone else, from 21-year-old Rickie Fowler to 50-year-old Tom Lehman.

“When you have a love of the game, you still want to achieve things,” Els said. “The first week is still quite exciting. You look around this week at who might be doing what for the future of the tour. Players like myself, Retief … Phil will be 40 this year. It’s like the sand in the hourglass is starting to run out. And we’d like to prove to everyone we still belong.”

Also in the field is John Daly, who has lost about 100 pounds over the past nine months through lap-band surgery. Daly is playing on a sponsor’s exemption, about the only way he can get into tournaments except those who recognize his status as a past champion on tour or a two-time major champion.

Daly played behind Els at the British Open, and the Big Easy hardly recognized him except for the loud pants. Daly is down to 190 pounds now, and Els might look at him the same way as some of the other rookies he doesn’t know.

He wouldn’t be alone.

Daly agreed to host the pro-am party Tuesday night at a Honolulu hotel, along with Rich Beem, and he was late for a good reason. The official at the door didn’t know who he was.

“They wouldn’t let me in,” he said. “If I weighed 300 pounds and had four chins, I’d have no problem getting in. No one recognized me.”

Indeed, the two-time major champion has a new look for the new season.

The question is whether he has a new game.

“I feel a tremendous amount of pressure, not from my sponsors, but from myself,” said Daly, whose only status comes from being a past champion. “My goal is to get my card. If I make enough money, fine. If I win, fine. Just so I can finally set up 2011 with a schedule.”

Getty Images

Expired visa, helicopter, odd clubs all part of Vegas' journey

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 3:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jhonattan Vegas thought someone was playing a practical joke on him.

Or maybe he was stuck in the middle of a horror movie.

Scheduled to leave for The Open a week ago, he didn’t arrive at Carnoustie until a little more than an hour before his first-round tee time Thursday.

“Even if somebody tried to do that on purpose,” he said, “you couldn’t really do it.”

The problem was an expired visa.

Vegas said that he must have gotten confused by the transposed date on the visa – “Guessing I’ve been living in America too long” – and assumed that he was cleared to travel.

No problem, he was told. He’d have a new visa in 24 hours.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Except the consulate in New York didn’t respond to his application the next day, keeping him in limbo through the weekend. Then, on Monday, he was told that he’d applied for the wrong visa. UPS got shut down in New York and his visa never left, so Vegas waited in vain for seven hours in front of the consulate in Houston. He finally secured his visa on Wednesday morning, boarded a flight from Houston to Toronto, and then flew to Glasgow, the final leg of a 14-hour journey.

His agent arranged a helicopter ride from Glasgow to Carnoustie to ensure that he could make his 10:31 a.m. (local) tee time.

One more issue? His clubs never made it. They were left back in Toronto.

His caddie, Ruben Yorio, scrambled to put together a new bag, with a mismatched set of woods, irons, wedges and putter.

“Luckily the (equipment) vans are still here,” Vegas said. “Otherwise I probably would have played with members’ clubs today.”

He hit about 20 balls on the range – “Luckily they were going forward” – but Carnoustie is one of the most challenging links in the world, and Vegas was working off of two hours’ sleep and without his own custom-built clubs. He shot 76 but, hey, at least he tried.

“It was fun,” he said, “even though the journey was frustrating.”

Getty Images

'Brain fart' leads to Spieth's late collapse

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The closing stretch at Carnoustie has famously ruined many a solid round, so Jordan Spieth’s misadventures on Thursday should not have been a complete surprise, but the truth is the defending champion’s miscues were very much self-inflicted.

Spieth was cruising along at 3 under par, just two shots off the early lead, when he made a combination of errors at the par-4 15th hole. He hit the wrong club off the tee (4-iron) and the wrong club for his approach (6-iron) on his way to a double bogey-6.

“The problem was on the second shot, I should have hit enough club to reach the front of the green, and even if it goes 20 yards over the green, it's an easy up-and-down,” Spieth said. “I just had a brain fart, and I missed it into the location where the only pot bunker where I could actually get in trouble, and it plugged deep into it. It was a really, really poor decision on the second shot, and that cost me.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Spieth continued to compound his problems with a sloppy bogey at the 16th hole, and a drive that sailed left at 18 found the Barry Burn en route to a closing bogey and a 1-over 72.

The miscues were more mental, a lack of execution, than they were an example of how difficult the closing stretch at Carnoustie can be, and that’s not good enough for Spieth.

“That's what I would consider as a significant advantage for me is recognizing where the misses are,” said Spieth, who was tied for 68th when he completed his round. “It felt like a missed opportunity.”

Getty Images

Perez: R&A does it right, 'not like the USGA'

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 2:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez didn’t even attempt to hide his frustration with the USGA at last month’s U.S. Open, and after an opening-round 69 at The Open, he took the opportunity to double down on his displeasure.

“They (the R&A) do it right, not like the USGA,” Perez said of the setup at Carnoustie. “They've got the opposite [philosophy] here. I told them, you guys have it right, let the course get baked, but you've got the greens receptive. They're not going to run and be out of control. They could have easily had the greens just like the fairway, but they didn't. The course is just set up perfect.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Concerns at Shinnecock Hills reached a crescendo on Saturday when the scoring average ballooned to 75.3 and only three players broke the par of 70. Of particular concern for many players, including Perez, were some of the hole locations, given how fast and firm the greens were.

“The U.S. Open could have been like this more if they wanted to. They could have made the greens a bit more receptive,” Perez said. “These greens are really flat compared to Shinnecock. So that was kind of the problem there is they let it get out of control and they made the greens too hard.”