Ernie Healthy Eyes Top Again
It was 1994 when he won the U.S. Open at the tender age of 24. And it was 97 when he won it again. He won the British in 2002. He almost won the Masters in 2004 ' remember that picture of him, forlorn and standing all alone on the putting green munching an apple - after Phil Mickelson birdied the 18th to send him down to bitter defeat?
Ernie is 37 now ' he had a birthday just last week. Hes only about six months older than Mickelson, so he should still be in the prime of his career. But youve heard precious little of him this year. Hes been demoted from the Big 3 or Big 4, whatever the media chose to call it. A devastating knee injury suffered when he ruptured the ACL ligament in July of last year meant that he wouldnt play for five months, and affected his swing for more than a year. He plays in the Chrysler Championship this week, almost a forgotten man.
Actually, it hasnt been that bad of a year, if were talking the average player here. Hes finished in the top 10 three times in the U.S. without missing a cut. On the European Tour, he finished third in the British Open, second in Dubai, and won in South Africa. But ' no one refers to him as one of the best in the world anymore.
Is that a mistake? Well, it could be. Ernie is again making noises like he is about to win.
Lets see, he finished fifth in the WCG-American Express less than a month ago, then finished fifth in the Dunhill Links in Scotland in his last outing. When he returns to the United States after being gone for two months, its difficult to tell that hes lost too much.
Els isnt promising anything dramatic. Ive just got to build for next year, basically, he says. But he could make some real noise this week and next, when he will probably play in the Tour Championship (he currently stands 30th on the U.S. money list and the top 30 make the field.)
Ernie doesnt blame his downturn on his injury unless hes specifically asked. But its glaringly obvious theres been something amiss throughout the year. For a long time, he twitched when he put pressure on the knee. He has slumped to being just 60th in driving distance, losing more than eight yards of his figure of last year.
I felt the knee for a long time, Els said, but what's the use of me saying it's not good? It's not going to do me any good; it's not going to do anybody any good. So you don't want to say how terrible things are.
Ernie has worked diligently with David Leadbetter and at home near London to get his swing back, fighting through the bad habits he picked up while subconsciously favoring the knee. But he says hes found something.
I worked with a good friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, he said at the Dunhill three weeks ago, and he found something in the swing. I went with it last week (in the American Express) and it went great.
Actually, though, Els turned the corner at the U.S. Open in June, finally feeling stabilized enough that he could really put pressure on the knee. There he finished T-26, but he felt no pangs in swinging the club. It was simply a process of working through the bad habits he had picked up. And since then, Ernie has steadily improved.
Lead (Leadbetter) - he said because of the knee, I don't want to put all my weight onto the knee, on the downswing, said Els. I didn't quite complete my backswing because I was just subconsciously, I think I was just trying to stay away from the knee. And doing that got me into those situations, where I got into that classic stuck position. And from there I hit it either right or left.
You can't do that in a golf swing - you've got to go left. You can't hit the golf ball from the right side. I think it had a little bit to do with this little slump I'm in. And as the knee feels better I can get into better positions in my swing, and I think it's now only a matter of time before things are going to turn around.
Strangely enough, Ernies putting suffered during his absence. He currently stands way down in the No. 82 position on tour in that category, after being as high as ninth only two years ago. But that aspect of his game is coming around, too. At last, he can see some real positives throughout.
It's been pretty tough, he confesses. It's been more than a year now, and I've had a rough time with the game and the injuries. But I feel physically fine. There's really no problem. At the moment that's good. I've done a lot of hard work physically on that and on my golf game. But it's been a tough 12 months, to be honest with you.
But through it all, his love of the game hasnt diminished one iota.
Golf is still my life, he says. That is the core of my life. And without golf I couldn't see myself sitting in an office right now and doing those other things that we are busy with. I've got a good ten years to do what I've always wanted to do. I'm really just 100 percent playing golf right now.
USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?
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.
Apparently the Blue Bloods of the @USGA do. I refuse to watch it because I know what the outcome will be. Mike Davis and his crew could ruin Christmas. #amateurhacks #giveusourgameback https://t.co/n3GgOJl02C— William McGirt (@WilliamMcGirt) June 16, 2018
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.”
Thanks guys did Bozo set the course up or are the @USGA going to accept responsibility or just say “IF WE HAD A MULLIGAN” I would have liked about 6 mulligans today. But they are not allowed at this level. “Apparently” pic.twitter.com/O08vOpNlTx— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) June 17, 2018
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.”
As a player and a golf fan myself, it’s sad to see how one of our biggest tournaments @usopengolf gets ripped apart because the @USGA can’t figure out the right set up for the great golf courses we play!!— Sergio Garcia (@TheSergioGarcia) June 17, 2018
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.”
I wish the @USGA would realize that this course really is special. But it was never designed to have greens at 15 on the stemp. You look like you’re trying to embarrass the best players in the world!— Colt Knost (@ColtKnost) June 17, 2018
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.
Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow
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.
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.
Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it
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).
We followed our defending champion Toto Gana during his registration! He even did his Donald Duck impression!— LAAC (@LAAC_Golf) January 17, 2018
Acompañamos a Toto Gana, defensor del título, durante todo el proceso de acreditación. ¡Incluso imitó a Donald Duck!#LAAC2018 pic.twitter.com/NGh7hS4cCz
Ryder Cup race: Mickelson out, Simpson in
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
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:
1. Tyrrell Hatton
2. Justin Rose
3. Tommy Fleetwood
4. Francesco Molinari
5. Thorbjorn Olesen
6. Ross Fisher
1. Jon Rahm
2. Rory McIlroy
3. Alex Noren
4. Matthew Fitzpatrick
5. Ian Poulter
6. Rafael Cabrera-Bello