Notes: Wraparound schedule gets underway at Frys

By Doug FergusonOctober 8, 2013, 3:50 pm

SAN MARTIN, Calif. – The PGA Tour season gets underway this week at the Frys.com Open, the first time the Tour has gone to a wraparound season. And while the field might not look that strong on paper, odds are that will change.

The tournament has three players from the Presidents Cup (Hideki Matsuyama, Angel Cabrera and Marc Leishman – along with assistant captain Davis Love III). It has two from the top 50 in the world (Matsuyama at No. 30 and defending champion Jonas Blixt at No. 34), and one player who was at the Tour Championship (Billy Horschel).

How might that change?

A year ago, eight PGA Tour members took part in an exhibition in Turkey called the World Golf Finals, held the same week as the Frys.com Open. In exchange for a release from the Tour, they agreed to play the Frys.com Open at least once over the next three years.

Those players were Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood, Justin Rose, Hunter Mahan, Charl Schwartzel, Webb Simpson and Matt Kuchar.

Frys.com Open president Duke Butler recalls a similar situation nearly 30 years ago. The PGA Tour granted releases to four players to play the Australian Skins Game in 1985 when it was held the same week as the Houston Open. The players agreed to play Houston at least once over the next few years.

Those players could be called headliners – Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros and Greg Norman.

The next year, the Houston Open included Nicklaus in his first start since winning the Masters for his sixth green jacket, one of the most popular wins in golf.


DUF & VIJAY: For all the attention on Phil Mickelson and his money games to get young players prepared for big moments, Jason Dufner had his own tutor when he was just starting out on the PGA Tour. He went about it quietly, and it was a learning experience.

Dufner secured his PGA Tour card for the first time in 2003 through the Nationwide Tour money list. He was at the TPC Sawgrass preparing for his rookie season when he saw Vijay Singh on the back of the practice range.

''I just went up to him. I said, 'Hey, my name is Jason Dufner, I'm going to be playing the Tour next year, and if I could play some practice rounds with you, that would be great. And if not, I understand,''' Dufner said last week at the Presidents Cup. ''I was there for four or five days, pretty much practicing the same schedule he was,'' Dufner added. ''So maybe he took notice and respected that I was working and trying to get better.''

They played plenty of practice rounds in 2004, and it turned into a banner year for the Fijian. Singh won nine times and $10.9 million.

''Every event that he won, except for the PGA, I played a practice round with him that year,'' Dufner said. ''So I got a lot of valuable experience. A little lighter on the wallet from all of that – I took my lumps. But I'd like to think that some of the things he shared with me and some of the knowledge he gave me helped me to where I am now.''

Dufner didn't fare so well as a rookie, returning to the minor leagues for two years before he went back to the PGA Tour for good. Now he is a three-time winner, a major champion and has a 6-2 record in the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup.

Dufner recalls beating Singh out of some money just one time during that 2004 season. He shot a 63 at the old 84 Lumber Classic. Singh shot 64.

''I had nine birdies, no bogeys. He had eight birdies, no bogeys,'' Dufner said. ''He was playing pretty good on Tuesdays that year, too.''


PRESIDENT CUP FIXES: Nick Price wants to see the Presidents Cup follow the Ryder Cup format by playing only 28 matches instead of 34, which would allow teams to disguise weaknesses and at least increase the odds of the matches being close going into singles.

Just because the International team keeps getting smoked is not an indication that there are too many matches. Remember, the current format of 34 matches was introduced in 2003 in South Africa. The Internationals had a three-point lead going into Sunday. Thirteen of the 22 team matches reached the 17th hole. The Presidents Cup ended in a tie. So maybe it's not the format.

Have six matches Thursday and Friday (fourballs and foursomes). Have one session of six matches on Saturday with three matches for each format. The captains will have to decide which three teams play foursomes and which three play fourballs. That's 18 matches going into singles, for a total of 30 points.

That doesn't mean it can't be changed to make it better.


HALL OF FAME: The World Golf Hall of Fame is taking a year off from inducting anyone to review its selection process.

One of the longtime sticking points of the Hall of Fame is inducting players still in the prime of their careers. Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson each won major championships after they were inducted. Vijay Singh won the FedEx Cup two years after his induction.

Currently, male players are eligible for the ballot when they turn 40. The LPGA Tour has its own criteria based on points. Se Ri Pak was inducted at age 30.

The Hall of Fame said the ''strategic review'' has been going on since the 2013 induction ceremony during The Players Championship in May. Because the election (PGA Tour, International ballots) and selection (Veteran's Category, Lifetime Achievement) takes several months and involves other golf organizations, the Hall of Fame has chosen to skip the 2014 induction ceremony.

The next ceremony is planned for May 4, 2015, on the Monday of The Players Championship.

The Hall of Fame said its review was expected to be completed early next year.

Tiger Woods is eligible to be on the ballot at the end of the 2015 season. If the age limit is pushed back to 50, he would not be eligible until 2025.


DIVOTS: Ernie Dunlevie, one of the founding fathers of the 1960 Palm Springs Golf Classic now known as the Humana Challenge, died Sunday of cancer at 96. Dunlevie was the last surviving founding board member. ... Bill Haas on playing the Presidents Cup twice with his father, Jay, as an assistant captain: Evidence of the new season could be found on the range at CordeValle. Carl Pettersson, who has been with Nike most of his career, has switched to TaylorMade clubs and the Titleist golf ball. He said he could have renewed but it was time for a change. ... Michael Antolini, who was director of business development for the PGA Tour, has been appointed director of the Deutsche Bank Championship.


STAT OF THE WEEK: Henrik Stenson of Sweden was chosen as the Race to Dubai golfer of the month for September on the European Tour based on his two wins in America.


FINAL WORD: ''It's one of the few times that I'm treated as a peer by my dad and not his son.'' - Bill Haas, on playing the Presidents Cup with his father, Jay, as an assistant captain.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

Getty Images

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?’”

Getty Images

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.