Tales from the Tour

By Doug FergusonDecember 30, 2009, 12:33 am
For a select few, the airline of choice is TWA – Tiger Woods Airlines.

The world’s No. 1 player has been flying private for most of his professional career, and most recently flew home from Australia with his mother, three close friends and his office manager. On rare occasions, Woods has flown commercial to Dubai on Emirates Airlines.

But when was the last time he flew in coach class?

“On a really long flight?” Woods replied a few months ago while in Shanghai. “Probably in college.”

That took him back to his freshman year at Stanford. He flew to Paris for the World Amateur Team Championship in 1994 when he played alongside Todd Demsey, Allen Doyle and John Harris.

“That was back when they still had smoking sections in the very back of the plane for international flights,” Woods said. “I was in the row right in front of the smoking section. I asked the flight attendant if I could lay down on the floor. The rules were a little different back then. Then I asked her if I could get something to drink. She asked me how old I was, and I told her I was 18.”

He laughed, choosing not to finish the story.

Woods can be anywhere at the moment, although various reports have put him in Florida and Arizona, on a plane to Sweden and on a boat to the Bahamas, even though his yacht is still docked.

While he has not played since Nov. 15 in Australia, the competition has been as fierce as ever – not against Phil Mickelson or any other player, rather the paparazzi. Since driving his SUV into a tree outside his Florida home, setting off an explosive and incredible sex scandal that dominated news in December, Woods has yet to be seen.

Some say the first picture of him could bring as much as $100,000. Photographers have staked out his yacht in south Florida and his home near Orlando. One place he probably won’t be found – at the back of a commercial airliner.

The search for Tiger capped off a bizarre month at the end of a year that featured more than just birdies and bogeys. These are some of the tales from the tour:

Mark Calcavecchia doesn’t pay much attention to life outside of golf. Heck, it took him seven times playing Turnberry before he noticed that stone monument atop a hill next to the 12th green that commemorates the lost airmen during two World Wars.

Calcavecchia was at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am when he was told the story about a writer who inquired about Tiger Woods’ pro-am group and introduced himself to Jerry Yang, co-founder of Yahoo! The writer not only asked Yang what he did for a living, he followed up by asking what he did at Yahoo!

Calcavecchia smiled and looked away.

“I think I can top that one,” he said. “Jerry was my partner the last time I played here.”

Calcavecchia said he called his wife the night before the tournament to tell her about meeting his amateur for the week, describing him as a great guy and that they would have a good time over the next few days.

His wife asked the name of the amateur.

“So I tell her, ‘Jerry Yang, he’s like the chairman or CEO or CFO or something like that … of Yoohoo. You know, that chocolate drink? That’s one of my favorite drinks. I was thinking maybe he can get a couple of cases shipped to us.”’

Asked if she recalled the conversation, Brenda Calcavecchia rolled her eyes and smiled.

Scott Sajtinac, the caddie for Paul Goydos, flew out early to Memphis, Tenn., to walk the golf courses used for U.S. Open qualifying and compile a yardage book. One of the courses thought he was trying to make money off the club and cut short his time.

Sajtinac did the best he could with the map drawings, and the frustration was evident in a note he left his fellow caddies in the yardage book, in which he referred to “minor political restraints” that kept him from spending more time on the course for a proper drawing.

“For those of you that will approach me complaining that this is not a high-quality Picasso job, may I give you this advice: DO NOT,” the note said. “By obtaining my book, you have saved yourself some 20 hours-plus work and a whole lot of heartache. This book will get you through the round just fine.”

Among those who didn’t get through was his boss. Goydos missed a 6-foot birdie on the last hole and failed to advance in a playoff.

Few golf courses elicit such a wide range of descriptions like the TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players Championship. Several players were asked this year to describe the course in one word. Padraig Harrington served up “exciting.” Tiger Woods opted for “tricky.” Paul Goydos called it “surprising.”

Geoff Ogilvy was stumped. He is considered among the most eloquent players on the PGA Tour, someone who puts great thought into every answer and usually nails it. On this occasion, he couldn’t come up with the proper description.

Five days later, Ogilvy was headed for another middling result. He has never finished in the top 10 at The Players Championship, missing as many cuts as he has made. Walking off the 14th tee, Ogilvy saw the reporter who had asked him the question earlier in the week and called him over.

“Annoying,” he said, with no context, although it was quite clear what he meant.

Stewart Cink knew he would get his fill of questions about Tiger Woods and the sex scandal during the Chevron World Challenge in December, and he didn’t shy away from answering them—on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

After the third round, and another batch of questions, Cink called a reporter over to where he was signing autographs.

“Are you going to be writing stories about Tiger?” he said quietly. “Could you somehow work in there that it’s been real easy for everyone in our country – including PGA Tour players, writers, TV people, everybody – to whip up on Tiger? But let’s not forget that we all make mistakes. While it’s easy to tee off on somebody in the press, they deserve for us to remember that we also make mistakes.”

And with that, he reached for another flag and kept signing.

One of the most poignant moments of 2009 came on the Monterey Peninsula for Phil Mickelson’s caddie, only it wasn’t a tournament.

Jim “Bones” Mackay helped arrange a golf trip for close friend Bob Carson, father of Eve Carson, the North Carolina student body president who was shot to death in 2008. They wanted him to get away for a week and spend time with friends on a golf course.

As Carson later noted, it was a trip of incomparable camaraderie, a time for sharing burdens, some larger than others, and a chance for a friend to be lifted up. Mackay said the first round of golf was at Cypress Point on a peaceful morning of stunning beauty. What took his breath away, however, was when he walked into the pro shop.

By coincidence, the staff that day was dressed in a shade of Carolina blue.
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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.



After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”



By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”



But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”



But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).

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Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 2:34 pm

There's a new man at the top of the U.S. Ryder Cup race following the U.S. Open, and there's also a familiar name now on the outside looking in.

Brooks Koepka's successful title defense vaulted him to the top of the American points race, up four spots and ensuring he'll be on the team Jim Furyk takes to Paris in September. Dustin Johnson's third-place finish moved him past Patrick Reed at No. 2, while Webb Simpson entered the top eight after a a tie for 10th.

While Bryson DeChambeau remained at No. 9, Phil Mickelson dropped two spots to No. 10. Tony Finau, who finished alone in fifth, went from 16th to 13th, while Tiger Woods fell two spots to No. 37.

Here's a look at the latest U.S. standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically:

1. Brooks Koepka

2. Dustin Johnson

3. Patrick Reed

4. Justin Thomas

5. Jordan Spieth

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Bubba Watson

8. Webb Simpson

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9. Bryson DeChambeau

10. Phil Mickelson

11. Matt Kuchar

12. Brian Harman

On the European side, England's Tommy Fleetwood took a big stride toward securing his first Ryder Cup appearance with a runner-up finish that included a Sunday 63 while countryman Matthew Fitzpatrick snuck into a qualifying spot after tying for 12th.

Here's a look at the updated Euro standings, with the top four from both points lists joining four picks from captain Thomas Bjorn at Le Golf National:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Tommy Fleetwood

4. Francesco Molinari

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5. Thorbjorn Olesen

6. Ross Fisher

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Rory McIlroy

3. Alex Noren

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

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5. Ian Poulter

6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello