Jacks Back - If Only for a Day

By George WhiteFebruary 8, 2005, 5:00 pm
For awhile, it was 1972 all over again. There was Jack Nicklaus, suddenly putting for something downright meaningful. Now he had that old strut back. He had the intense concentration in his eyes as he bent over to putt. He was, once again, the Golden Bear.
 
Say, is Jack really 65 now? Doesnt seem possible, does it? But there he was, playing alongside Arnold Palmer, Tom Watson and the youngun of the group, Craig Stadler. It was just a Skins Game, and Stadler was supposed to run the table ' he is by far the best player in this foursome. But I was spellbound, intrigued enough to stop by the TV and watch Sunday ' could it be that Jack Nicklaus might really win?
 
Yes, he actually won. He won 11 skins and $340,000. He won his first skins game since way back in 91, when he was just 51 years old. That was back when he was still a feared player ' he won three Senior majors that year. That was before a surgeons knife had ripped through his torso so many times that he felt like melted butter. He could actually get outside and practice a little.
 
He cant contort his body to practice anymore, of course. Far too often the past 10 years, he will catch lightning in a bottle one day and swear he is going to play more this year. Then some other body part begins to ache and he realizes he just cant stand long enough to rehearse his drills. He had played just four rounds ' four rounds! ' since his own Memorial Tournament in June of 2004. And those were all at course openings of yet another Nicklaus design.
 
But, by cracky, he won the Skins last week! The $340,000 check, incidentally, is the biggest payday of his playing career. It seems preposterous, but he never won that much for a victory during a regular-tour career - a career in which he was the champion 73 times. In fact, he never won $340,000 during the course of a single season in his PGA Tour career. Jacks biggest year was 72, when he won $316,911. And that was a year when he won seven times.
 
The game to me has always been ' I dont care if I won $20,000 or $2 million playing golf, he said. It was winning the tournament, playing the game, playing it well, doing what youre supposed to do and winning the event. The prize was ancillary to whats going on.
 
The Skins course was set up to suit the talents of the gentlemen, by way of explaining the generous fairways yet short yardage. Jack realizes he never would have shot 5-under if the course were set up for a normal Champions Tour event, much less a regular tour event. But why quibble over such a niggling thing ' the important thing was, here was a 65-year-old doing exactly what he had to do ' and he was able to do it!
 
Nicklaus just had another hip surgery and there was much doubt whether he would even get to play. But the mind can do amazing things with the golf club. And though his lack of great technique undoubtedly hampered his length, still he was able to place the ball enough times in just the right spots to make a bushel of birdies. And every time he had a reasonable chance to make a putt, he jarred it. He shot what was the equivalent of 5-under.
 
It was a far different Jack from the one we have seen on the golf course lately. More and more, its been a frustrated Jack, unable to derive happiness from a good score for an old man. Nicklaus does not see things that way ' the days when he was No. 1 in the world are still seared into his mind, and thats the only way this game is any fun. A shot that is pretty good for a 65-year-old is not nearly good enough to satisfy him. Better - much better - to be fishing or hunting.
 
He won the match Sunday on No. 14, when his six-foot putt earned him five skins. That gave him a total of $300,000 and, for all intents and purposes, the entire game.
 
I saw where Tom put his ball, 15, 18 feet, and I saw where Arnold hit a really nice shot behind the hole, said Nicklaus. I said if I want to win the Skins Game, I can win it right here.
 
I just went ahead and aimed it six feet left of the hole, and thats where it went - 165-yard 6-iron. Putt was dead-center and once I did that, I knew the only one who could catch me was Stadler and he had to win all the rest of the skins.
 
Once again, the outing was enough to light a spark. Jack saw a little something. He wants to play a tournament or two before he decides if the Masters is possible. No, he doesnt just want to show up and go through the motions for a couple of days. But he does want to be competitive ' even if there isnt one chance in a million he might win.
 
Why does he feel so good? Because he was able to do this when he had sore hamstrings.
 
I dont have the power in my legs yet, he said. I have to get my legs back. Thats where your power is at. That will come back when I play more.
 
And the youngsters really enjoyed seeing Grandpa Jack play so well.
 
The old man here played really good, said Stadler. He moans and complains about the hips, the back, the legs, he just lulls you to sleep and then he makes four birdies in a row. Im not surprised by anything he does.
 
Likewise, Watson.
 
The game still has room for Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, said Watson. It still has room for them. Yes, theres a lot of room for people like Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to promote the sport the way they do.
 
Palmer is content to play just for the sake of playing ' thats how he promotes the game. But Jack ' Jack needs to play well to derive any satisfaction. And this weekend ' he did it to perfection.
 
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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”

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Phil's apology could have quashed incident days ago

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Better late than never.

Phil Mickelson’s mea culpa came five days after he turned the U.S. Open upside down. It came after an attempt to rationalize his mind-boggling efforts on the 13th green only made things worse, and four days after he opted to show up for the final round at Shinnecock Hills but declined comment on the imbroglio that nearly overshadowed Brooks Koepka’s successful title defense.

But finally, from behind a keyboard rather than in front of a microphone, he lent clarity to one of the strangest moments of a decorated career.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

It’s a statement that will hopefully serve as a coda to a controversy that bled into the first few days of the Travelers Championship. It’s also one that several players at TPC River Highlands believe Mickelson would have been well-served to issue in the immediate aftermath rather than attempting to inject intent into a momentary lapse.

“The problem was when he started to justify it,” said Graeme McDowell. “People were like, ‘Oh, did he kind of maybe try to do that on purpose?’ And then all of a sudden the integrity of the game starts coming into question. When if he’d have just said, ‘I lost my mind for a second. I can’t believe I just did that. That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever done on a golf course. Sorry, guys.’ If he’d have said that right away, it would have been over, finished, the end. And then no DQ comments would have come into it.”

Mickelson has spent the past 25 years staying one step ahead, be it with his comments to the media or his actions on and off the course. The man shows up to the Masters in a button-down shirt and elicits guffaws; the laughs died down the next month when Lefty revealed that he had taken an equity interest in the company and was quite literally benefiting from the attention his wardrobe choices had received.

But after being bludgeoned by a borderline setup on his 48th birthday, Mickelson appeared to have finally fallen victim to a fleeting moment of frustration. Not a premeditated attempt to save a shot, or to avoid further embarrassment ping-ponging across a crusty green. Simply a man driven to his breaking point for all the world to see.


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“As a player that’s been in that head space at that tournament, I can see it happening to people,” said Rory McIlroy. “Look, it’s a tournament that Phil has come so close to winning over the past few years. He’s probably seen what’s happened over the past few years at that tournament, and it’s frustrated him because it’s the only one that he hasn’t won. Plus, it’s probably becoming the hardest one to win for anyone because it is a bit of a lottery at times.”

Mickelson remains a man of the people, a flawed hero who goes for broke even after that mindset cost himself more than a couple tournaments. It’s a relatable and charismatic trait, one that helps weekend hackers stuck behind a tree feel a connection to a man who once turned a similar situation into a green jacket.

And having accrued more than two decades of positive equity by forging a path that other players don’t dare to take, Mickelson had more than enough margin for error to fess up after the putt-slap and avoid being pilloried.

But just as the cover-up is often worse than the crime, so too Mickelson’s decision to spin his actions Saturday afternoon – combined with his calculated decision to offer no further explanation after returning for the final round – only threw gas on the fire.

“It was very interesting. I didn’t understand it, and the USGA obviously didn’t understand what was all going on,” said Patrick Reed. “Phil, I don’t even really think he understood what was all transpiring at the moment.”

“I honestly think that he just tried to come up with a story to make it go away, and inadvertently caused the opposite reaction,” added McDowell.

Player opinion remains divided on several aspects of the Mickelson situation, and there are still those who believe Mickelson should have been disqualified for his actions, regardless of his intent or lack thereof. But the topic most players agreed on was that this situation won’t tarnish Mickelson’s overall legacy.

Eventually, the news will cycle out and Mickelson will continue his quest for a sixth major title without being dogged by a regrettable moment when he essentially channeled the impulse of a 10-handicap looking to escape to the next tee.

Even though questions will linger when he tees it up next at The Greenbrier, and likely again when the international press gathers at The Open, Mickelson will be well-served to have finally taken some ownership of a poor choice in the heat of the moment, rather than to attempt to explain it away as a calculated move.

It’s a tactic that likely would have proven even more beneficial under the heat of the spotlight at Shinnecock Hills. But better late than never.

“Why he tried to justify it, I’ll never know. Maybe he thought it was the right thing to do at the time,” McDowell said. “But I think as a golfer, we all understand the frustration, and just the mental lapse he had in that second when he did it.

“It was just Phil being Phil. Trying to apply science to madness.”

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A plan to avoid U.S. Open setup snafus

By Rex HoggardJune 20, 2018, 3:39 pm

It happened again.

It was an inexplicable turn of events after a decade and a half of vehement assurances that this U.S. Open would be different. In the months leading up to the 118th championship, USGA CEO Mike Davis explained that this time the technology was better and many contended that the association was better.

In 2004, the last time the U.S. Open traveled to the East End of Long Island things didn’t go well, with Shinnecock Hills’ greens going dark and dusty for a final round Davis called a “double bogey” for the association.

To be fair, last week’s sequel wasn’t that extreme - let’s call it a bogey - but it was no less baffling.

“It’s more the course, about how they set it up. Because Saturday was a total, it was like two different golf courses, practically, on the greens Saturday versus Sunday,” Jason Day said of last week’s U.S. Open. “I just wish they would leave it alone and just let it go. Not saying to let the greens go and let them dry out and make it unfair, I’m just saying plan accordingly and hopefully whatever the score finishes, it finishes, whether it’s under par or over par.”

There will be those who contend that Day and Co. - Ian Poulter was also a harsh critic - should simply toughen up, that demanding conditions are the price that must be paid if you want to win the U.S. Open. But that ignores the facts and the USGA’s own assessment.

“There were some aspects today where well-executed shots were not rewarded. We missed it with the wind,” Davis said on Saturday. “We don’t want that. The firmness was OK but it was too much with the wind we had. It was probably too tough this afternoon – a tale of two courses.”



The USGA missed it, again.

Perhaps this is the cost of wanting to play a golf course on the razor’s edge, where just a few warm gusts define the line between demanding but fair and over the top. Or maybe this is an issue of continuity.

Every year the R&A holds a championship and nearly every year we spend the days afterward celebrating a champion, not complaining about an unfair course or an incorrect weather forecast.

There are philosophical differences between the USGA and R&A when it comes to golf course setup, with our transatlantic friends wired to accept relatively easier conditions if the wind doesn’t blow. But maybe the R&A gets it right more often than not because each year they deal with a known quantity.

There are currently nine courses (assuming Turnberry returns to the fold some day) in the Open Championship rotation. The R&A will add Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which last hosted the championship in 1951, to that rotation next year, .

Perhaps the R&A has been able to avoid the kind of setup snafus that have plagued the USGA in recent years (let’s not forget the substandard greens at Chambers Bay in 2015 or the last-minute landscaping in ’17 at Erin Hills) because they know, through decades of trial and error, what happens at Royal Troon when the winds gust from the North and what hole locations should never be used on the Old Course at St. Andrews.

Similarly, the folks who run the Masters regularly get it right. They get everything right, from course setup to parking regardless of inclement weather or extreme conditions, because they’ve had eight decades to figure it out.

Only the PGA Championship travels like the U.S. Open, but then the PGA of America’s setup philosophy is more in line with that of normal PGA Tour events, with officials regularly erring on the side of the player, not some notion that par must be protected.

Maybe there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a more standardized rotation couldn’t cure. If, for example, the USGA were to follow the R&A’s lead and set a dance card of eight to 10 regular stops for the national championship they could create the kind of continuity and institutional knowledge that seems to work so well at the Open Championship.

What if Shinnecock Hills, which is among the best venues for the U.S. Open regardless of the setup miscues of ’04 and ’18, hosted the championship every decade? Officials would have a chance to better understand what works and what doesn’t, from golf course setup to traffic (which was just as bad as some of Saturday’s hole locations).

Pick your regulars, from Pebble Beach to Pinehurst, Winged Foot to Torrey Pines, create a rotation and learn whatever it takes to get it right once and for all.

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Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 2:41 pm

Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.

Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.

“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.