Olazabal Rounding Into Form for Match Play

By George WhiteFebruary 19, 2002, 5:00 pm
Hes 36 now, a veteran of just about every kind of golf you can imagine. During his life hes been a junior champion, an adult champion, excelled with Seve Ballesteros in the Ryder Cup, has two Masters titles, been successful in every corner of the world.
 
But ' Jose Maria Olazabal may be just learning to win.

Winning consistently has always been difficult for Olazabal. Hes played 14 years now and never won the European money ranking. The last two years the Spaniard has played both the U.S. and European tours, and two weeks ago broke through with a victory at San Diego. This week hes at the World Golf Championship'Accenture Match Play Championship, and he looks suspiciously like someone who can win it all.
 
(Hes) driving the ball fantastic, said Darren Clarke, the Irishman who played a practice round with Olazabal Monday. He missed one fairway yesterday. And he drove it long and straight. If he keeps it in the fairway, hes going to have a great chance because his short game is so good.
 
Clarke has been a European Tour regular for almost 12 years, and hes seeing an Olazabal hes never seen before. The best Clarke has seen? Yeah ' by a long shot, agreed Clarke.
 
The difference, frankly, is Olazabals instructor ' Butch Harmon. Olazabal asked Harmon early last year to take a look at the crooked drives and offer some advice. Harmon did, and though its taken Olazabal a year to feel comfortable with the instruction, it finally is becoming ingrained. Somebody had better watch out.
 
Im playing better, obviously, said Olazabal. Really, its just a matter of technique, changing the swing and thats pretty much it.
 
Ive been doing NOT the right swing for many years, and its going to take me a while to get rid of those bad habits. I didnt spend much time with (Harmon), and maybe its not the right time to work on your swing when youre playing tournaments and major events. But having said that, I think the results are starting to show up. Hopefully, Ill keep on improving.

Olazabal has been superb in his Ryder Cup appearances, teaming with Seve Ballesteros to form one of the more feared teams in Cup history. He has considerable experience playing this match-play format.
 
You have to really change your approach to the round, he conceded. Eighteen holes is not much. I mean, anything can happen in 18 holes of match play.
 
But thats all you have to change, your approach to the round. Youre not trying to beat the golf course. Youre just trying to beat an opponent, and all you have to do is just score one less than he does on every hole.
 
Given Olazabals recent success, there has been considerable distress that he isnt on the European Ryder Cup team. The teams will be the same as they were in September before the terrorist attacks, and the match will be played this year in September under the same guidelines with the same team members as last year.
 
Olazabal says that is fine with him.
 
I had my chance to be, he said, but I missed it, and I have no regrets about it. Nothing I can do about it.
 
The decisions are done. I think it would be pointless to talk about it anymore. I think it will be to the benefit of the team itself not to talk about this issue at all, concerning anybody. I think that will have to be made clear to everybody.
 
Olazabals first-round match is against the man who caused the uproar in the last Ryder Cup ' Justin Leonard. Leonard sunk a huge putt on the 17th green that set off a wild American celebration while Olazabal waited patiently to putt.
 
Olazabal believes, however, that any untoward feelings that may have existed between him and Leonard have long since been patched up.
 
Everything was resolved a few years ago, said Olazabal. He did what he was supposed to do. I mean, he tried to play his best. Finally, he won. There was nothing wrong with him.
 
That was just one of the breaks that you must accept, Olazabal says. Golf gives you something many times, but it takes something many times.
 
I just try to keep as relaxed as possible, he said. But when you are in a situation to win or when you are in a situation under a lot of pressure, the adrenaline is flowing, youre not going to be relaxed. Youre not going to be able to deliver under those circumstances.
 
Sometimes, you know, that adrenaline helps you to concentrate better and to give your best.
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U.S. Am final comes down to Devon vs. Goliath

By Ryan LavnerAugust 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – On his family’s happiest day in years, Nick Bling stood off to the side of the 18th green, trying to collect himself.

His oldest son, Devon, had just advanced to the U.S. Amateur final, and he surely knew that, at some point, the question was coming. Of the many members in the family’s boisterous cheering section that came here to Pebble Beach – a clan that includes Nick’s brothers and sisters, his in-laws and the teaching professionals of his hometown club – one person was conspicuously absent.

So for 22 seconds, Nick couldn’t utter a word.

“She’s watching,” he said, finally, wiping under his sunglasses.

His wife, Sara, died in February 2013 after suffering a sudden blood clot that went to her brain. She was only 45, the mother of two young boys.

The news took everyone by surprise – that day Nick and Devon were together at a junior tournament in southwest California, while Sara was at home with her youngest son, Dillon.

“That was bad. Unexpected,” said Dillon, now 16. “I don’t even want to think about that. That was a rough year.”

Sara was a fixture at all of the boys’ junior tournaments. She organized their schedules, packed their lunches and frequently shuttled them to and from China Lake, the only course in their small hometown of Ridgecrest, about two hours north of Los Angeles, where they’ve lived since 1990.

An engineer at the Naval Air Weapons Station, Nick picked up the game at age 27, and though he had no formal training (at his best he was a high-80s shooter), he was the boys’ primary swing coach until high school, when Devon was passed off to PGA instructor Chris Mason.

“Devon has world-class raw talent, and there’s a lot of things you can’t teach, and he’s got a lot of that,” said UCLA assistant coach Andrew Larkin. “But his dad looked at the game very analytically. He was able to break down the golf swing from a technical standpoint, and I think that has helped him. His dad is a brilliant man.”

Devon watched his dad hit balls in the garage and, at 18 months, began taking full swings with a plastic club, whacking shots against the back of the couch. Once his son was bigger, Nick put down a mat and built a hole in the dirt on the family’s property.


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Once it was time for the next step, there was only one option in town. China Lake is more than 300 miles from Pebble Beach, but in many ways they’re worlds apart. The course is dead in the winter, picked over by the birds in the spring and baked out in the summer, with 110-degree temperatures and winds that occasionally gust to 60 mph. Devon still blossomed into a well-known prospect.

“Growing up in Ridgecrest,” Devon said, “some could say that it’s a disadvantage. But I could use the course and take a shag bag and go out and practice. So I used it to my advantage, and if it weren’t for that golf course, I wouldn’t be here today.” 

Nor would he be here without the support of his family.

Asked how they survived the tragedy of losing Sara so suddenly, Nick Bling said: “Brothers. Kids. Friends. Half of Ridgecrest. The town. They all came together. What do they say, that it takes a village to raise a boy? It did. Two boys.”

Devon carried a 4.2 GPA in high school and played well enough to draw interest from UCLA. He played on the team last season as a freshman, winning a tournament and posting three other top-10s. The consistency in his game has been lacking, but the time spent around the Bruins’ coaches is starting to pay off, as he’s developed into more than just a swashbuckling power hitter. He has refined his aggression, though he’s offered more than a few reminders of his firepower. Last fall, the team held a Red Tee Challenge at TPC Valencia, where they all teed off from the red markers. Bling shot 28 on the back nine.

In addition to his awesome game, Larkin said that Bling was one of the team’s most mature players – even after arriving on campus as a 17-year-old freshman.

“I think his mannerisms and his charisma really come from his mom,” Larkin said. “It was a super hard time in his life, but I think it helped him grow and mature at an early age. He’s such a good big brother, and he took a lot of that responsibility.

“There’s a blessing in everything that happens, and I think it made him grow a little young. I think he’s the man he is today because of her.”

In his player profile, Bling wrote that his mom always wanted him to play in USGA championships, because of their prestige, and she would have loved to watch him maneuver his way through his first U.S. Amateur appearance.

After earning the No. 41 seed in stroke play, Bling knocked off two of the top amateurs in the country (Shintaro Ban and Noah Goodwin), edged one of the nation’s most sought-after prospects (Davis Riley) and on Saturday traded birdies with Pacific Coast Amateur champion Isaiah Salinda.

In one of the most well-played matches of the week, Bling made six birdies in a seven-hole span around the turn and shot the stroke-play equivalent of a 65 to Salinda’s 66.

The match came down to 18, where Bling bludgeoned a drive over the tree in the middle of the fairway, knocked it on the green in two shots and forced Salinda to make birdie from the greenside bunker, which he couldn’t.

Bling was a 1-up winner, clinching his spot in the finals (and the 2019 Masters and U.S. Open), and setting off a raucous celebration behind the rope line.

“He played as good as I’ve ever seen,” Larkin said. “The talent has always been there, and I’m glad it’s coming out this week.”

Another difficult opponent awaits in the championship match. It’s a mismatch on paper, a 36-hole final between Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, ranked fifth in the world, and the No. 302-ranked Bling. Hovland had won each of his previous two matches by a 7-and-6 margin – the first time that’s happened since 1978 – and then dropped eight birdies on Cole Hammer on Saturday afternoon.

But he’s likely never faced a player with Bling’s resolve – or a cheering section as supportive as his family’s.

“This means a lot to us,” Dillon said. “It was finally Devon’s time, and I knew one day it’d come down to the finals. He’s been playing awesome. Mom is probably really happy right now.”

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Furyk remains coy about Ryder Cup picks

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 9:01 pm

U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk sounds like a man champing at the bit to officially fill out his American team and accelerate final plans for the matches in Paris next month.

With eight automatic qualifiers secured last Sunday, all that’s left are his four captain’s picks.

“At times it felt like it was dragging on,” Furyk told Amanda Balionis during CBS TV’s rain delay Saturday at the Wyndham Championship. “I’m excited to get to this point.”

But still in no hurry to commit to naming Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson as two of his captain’s picks.

“We have some great choices and certainly Tiger and Phil look like they are in great form,” Furyk said.

Furyk, when specifically asked about Tiger’s chances as a pick:

“He’s played great,” Furyk said. “I’m in such a great position right now with so many players playing well and so many great players to choose from. The difficult part is going to be, `How do we pluck four guys out of there?’ Certainly, Tiger is in great form and has put himself in a great position.”

And on Mickelson’s chances:

“Phil does provide a lot of veteran leadership,” Furyk said. “He hasn’t missed one of these in a long time. He’s had a good season, and he’s putting extremely well. I want to say he’s second in putting stats right now. All good stuff, and we’ll see how the next few weeks kind of play themselves out.”


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Furyk doesn’t have to make his first three picks official until Sept. 4, with the final pick to be named six days later. While Woods and Mickelson may be locks, Furyk won’t be rushed.

“There’s still time.” Furyk said. “We are in an exciting part. We have eight guys. I’m still talking to them, gathering some information. The vice captains have been talking a lot. It’s been fun seeing the banter and the texts going back and forth.

“We’ll see how the next few weeks play themselves out.”

Furyk, by the way, is in contention at the Wyndham Championship. He was tied for 11th, six shots off the lead when interviewed in the weather delay.

So, if he wins, would he resurrect talk of being a playing captain?

“The odds are about zero right now,” Furyk said. “Now that I’m kind of knee deep, and we’re getting that close to the Ryder Cup, I really don’t think it’s possible to do both, be a player and a captain. The duties would be too great. And my game, I haven’t played well the last couple years. I’ve been battling injuries and battling myself. I’m excited, I have been feeling a lot better here the last few months and I’ve started playing some good golf.”

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Aiken, Waring tied at Nordea; Olesen three back

By Associated PressAugust 18, 2018, 5:45 pm

MOLNDAL, Sweden – Paul Waring of England and Thomas Aiken of South Africa share the lead, three shots clear of their rivals, after the third round of the Nordea Masters on the European Tour on Saturday.

Waring was tied for first place with Scott Jamieson after the second round and shot a 1-under 69.

While Jamieson (75) slipped down the leaderboard, Aiken caught up Waring after shooting 67 - despite three straight bogeys from No. 15. He bounced back by making birdie at the last.

Thorbjorn Olesen (67) and Marc Warren (66) are tied for third.

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Koepka: 'Surreal' Woods waited to say congrats at PGA

By Randall MellAugust 18, 2018, 3:47 pm

Brooks Koepka was moved by the respect shown when Tiger Woods waited for a half hour at scoring last Sunday to congratulate Koepka for his PGA Championship victory at Bellerive.

While Koepka stands as an example of the new athletes Woods has attracted to the game, he laughs hearing people compare his body to an NFL player’s.

Those were among the observations Koepka shared Friday on "The Dan Patrick Show."

“That was surreal,” Koepka said of Woods waiting to congratulate him. “To hang around on 18, I wasn’t expecting it. It was probably the coolest gesture he could have done.”

Koepka credits Woods for drawing him to the game.

“He’s the reason I am playing,” Koepka said.

Koepka said playing with Woods in contention was a noisy experience that went beyond the roars Woods created making birdies in front of him.

“Even when he makes contact, you know what shot he’s hitting,” Koepka said. “That’s how loud people are.

“When they are putting [his score] up on the leaderboard, you hear it three holes away.”

About those NFL player comparisons, Koepka said his parents wouldn’t let him play football when he was growing up.

“I wasn’t big enough,” he said.

Koepka said he marveled meeting former Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“To be compared to them, it makes me laugh,” Koepka said. “I’m about the size of a cornerback, maybe a free safety.”

Koepka said he’s just over 6 feet tall and weighs 208 pounds.

“I saw Brian Urlacher give an interview,” Koepka said. “It was kind of funny. He said he was impressed at how big I wasn’t ... If I stand next to Justin Thomas, I’m going to look big. Golf doesn’t really have many big guys.”

Koepka told Patrick he is impressed at the athletes just now coming into golf.

“I see the young guys coming out of college,” Koepka said. “They are bombing it past me. They hit it so far, they are leaving me in the dust. It’s hard to think of, because I’ve been one of the longest hitters on tour.”