Woods takes golf into a year of uncertainty

By Doug FergusonDecember 6, 2009, 12:51 am

Practically every new twist in the shocking tale of Tiger Woods includes an aerial view of his Florida home where his troubles began, when he pulled his SUV out of the driveway and drove it into a tree.

More questions arise when one surveys the expanse of grass across the street — the practice range at Isleworth.

Perhaps the most pressing: When will Woods slip into his spikes, step out of his house and hit golf balls again?

There is no telling when the world’s No. 1 player will choose to return to the PGA Tour and the massive galleries that, most certainly, will not gaze upon him quite the way they did at his previous 253 Tour events.

Woods has been out of the public eye since the car crash and subsequent allegations of extramarital affairs took Tigermania into startling new territory during Thanksgiving weekend. He went 13 years without a hint of scandal, the first $1 billion athlete with barely a blemish, guarded with the media even in good times. That’s not likely to change now.

“I am dealing with my behavior and personal failings behind closed doors with my family,” Woods said while confessing to “transgressions” on his Web site last week. “Those feelings should be shared by us alone.”

The greater mystery is his future.

“I think he’s held at a different standard than everybody else out there,” Kenny Perry said Friday at the Chevron World Challenge. “This will be interesting to see how he handles this, though. This is a totally different knock on him when he gets out there and plays next year.”

Until the crash in the wee hours of Nov. 27, anticipation about 2010 in golf was geared toward Woods’ pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ record in the majors, especially a year with Pebble Beach (U.S. Open) and St. Andrews (British Open) in the rotation.

That has been replaced by uncertainty and uneasiness.

A sport that promoted its wholesome image as its biggest asset now has a tawdry mess on its hands because of its star player, who happens to be among the most famous athletes in the world.

“What’s interesting to me about this situation is that while its bad in the short term, for golf, on a global basis, it has moved from being a sport to having iconic, celebrity status, and a whole host of other people are now interested,” said John Rowady, president of rEvolution, a Chicago-based sports marketing and media agency.

“And it may be a sport that is not prepared for that kind of publicity.”

The timing was not the greatest. The PGA Tour is struggling to find title sponsors at four tournaments and renew deals with at least a half dozen others. It also will start negotiations on a network TV deal that ends in 2012.

“I think one of our biggest selling points for the corporate world is that we are relatively controversy-free,” Geoff Ogilvy said at the start of the year. “We don’t generally have too many golfers getting into trouble like some other athletes in other sports do. We’re pretty squeaky-clean like that. It’s been like that for a long time. It doesn’t really seem like it’s going to change.”

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem has been silent during all this. He hasn’t made himself available for comment except for a statement in support of Woods’ family and the player’s request for privacy.

Asked if Finchem would take questions about concerns for golf’s image or whether it would affect business, spokesman Ty Votaw said the Tour does not comment on “hypothetical situations, conjecture and guesswork.”

At the start of the decade, Finchem was at Pebble Beach talking about how golf was in good hands. He cited the new arrivals of Adam Scott, Charles Howell III, David Gossett, young players who represented the values inherent in golf.

No need to mention Woods.

No one ever imagined his name would be splashed across anything but the sports pages, except for being on the cover of Time magazine in 2000 during one of the greatest summers of golf.

Padraig Harrington was quick to distinguish between Woods as a player and a person.

“It’s very much a private matter there,” Harrington said. “He wasn’t … speeding or had a DUI and hurt somebody. It really is a family matter. Hopefully, that’s the worst that golf could ever do. But how it reflects on golf? I suppose things like this have happened before at times, and we move on.

“I would still say golf I know this may be saying it from inside the sport – is constantly the No. 1 sport with the moral ethics and things like that. So I think we’re in a very strong position going forward.”

Woods’ corporate sponsors said they are standing by him. Most sports marketing consultants believe the scandal involving his personal life will have little bearing on TV ratings or contract negotiations. No one can be sure, however, just as no can predict where or when he will return to golf.

“There’s no impact on the sport itself other than the fact its best asset is a little damaged right now,” said Michael Gordon, CEO of Group Gordon Strategic Communications, a crisis PR firm in New York.

“But it starts with Tiger. He’s at the top of the pyramid,” Gordon said. “When Tiger is hurt, other assets could get hurt, too – potentially the PGA Tour, sponsors, his family. It’s a little bit of a domino affect, and he’s the first domino.”

His peers at the Chevron World Challenge – the tournament Woods hosts but did not attend – have largely been supportive without passing judgment, perhaps because they realize that Woods is their meal ticket. They are playing for $5.75 million this week, a snapshot of life on the PGA Tour made possible by Woods and his enormous appeal.

Total prize money was $65 million the year Woods turned pro in 1996. They played for $275 million this year.

Stewart Cink is among those who have jokingly suggested Woods is not human, having won 82 times around the world and 14 majors. After losing to him by a record margin at the Match Play Championship last year, Cink said, “I think maybe we ought to slice him open to see what’s inside. Maybe nuts and bolts.”

Woods twice mentioned in statements during the last week that he was, indeed, “human.” Will that make him seem more vulnerable as a player?

“I don’t think that whatever comes out of this will affect his golf because he’s a professional, and part of being a professional is to separate your personal life from what you do on the course,” Cink said. “I’ve had plenty of times when I came to the golf course in a tournament, and I was just a wreck off the course. … And you have no choice but to just leave that. It’s not always real easy, but he’ll find a way, and he’ll be fine.”

Greg Norman, who preceded Woods as golf’s biggest draw, understands scrutiny into one’s personal life, having disclosed in October that his 15-month marriage to tennis star Chris Evert was ending.

He believes golf is bigger than any one player and will be fine. And while he can empathize with Woods’ public life on display, Norman doesn’t feel sorry for him.

“Hey, he’s the No. 1 player in the world,” Norman said Saturday at the Australian Open. “Publicity is going to follow you no matter what you do, whether you win tournaments, lose tournaments and whatever happens.”

Woods has started at Torrey Pines every year since 2006 when healthy. Tournament director Tom Wilson said he recently met with PGA Tour security consultants about what needs to be done, if Woods chooses this event to mark his return.

“We might need to add a few chairs in the media center,” Wilson said.

If keeping together his family – wife Elin and two children – is a priority, Woods might wait longer.

“Is this going to make him stronger? We’ll find out,” Perry said. “Is this really going to get inside his head a little bit and really going to mess with him? I don’t know how the crowd is … going to attack him. Are they going to verbally abuse him out there? We don’t know.

“I don’t think it’s going to change our tour next year at all,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

Woods has tried to quell minor issues in the past with one sentence in a news conference or one posting on his Web site. Though three statements have been posted on his Web site since the accident, they’ve done little to answer lingering questions. As a result, media outlets have shown no signs of scaling back in their hot pursuit of information.

“When you get nonsporting media spending money on stories, whether they’re true or false, it’s just fanning the flames,” Rowady said.

Either way, he said the next few months will go a long way, starting with Woods returning to golf. He said Woods will need to raise his game not only on the course, but for the tour and its sponsors, his own sponsors and TV partners.

“If it’s true that golf is a gentleman’s game, it benefits by the way he finishes this process,” Rowady said. “How he comes out and eventually speaks and plays could be an asset, and then it heightens the awareness. What’s surprising to me is how quickly people are willing to tear him down. I don’t know that anyone benefits by making Tiger Woods into a villain.”

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”