Years Are Showing on Tiger - And Thats Good
That may come as a surprise, because a lot of people wouldn't allow for a natural progression. They think that sports stars come as a totally made package. When they are old enough for us to read about them, they should be mature enough to act and think as a 40-year-old acts and thinks.
But it doesn't happen that way - thank goodness. Children are born, they start school, they progress to high school, they say the wrong things and make silly mistakes while they are trying to become adults. Suffice it to say that some adults are still doing those same things. But gifted kids sometimes do them at the same time that they have developed athletic skills that are better than many grown-ups.
Tiger Woods is an example of that. For most of his life, he's been able to hit a golf ball better than most of us. The athleticism didn't wait. The social skills did. They came along faster than most 24-year-olds, but there was still a period of bumbling, of saying the wrong things at the wrong time and acting like a 16-year-old who was expected to be 40.
Of course, most of the problems have been in the eye of the beholder. Tiger, you see, was made to walk a much straighter line than usual because of his race. Few will admit it, but that's why so much was made of so little. He was darker than most of the gents. So he had to be better, more soft-spoken, give more credit than credit was due to more golfers. He couldn't say he won while he didn't have his `A-game,' because that was the extreme insult. That's really the mark of a good golfer, many say, that one has the brains to think himself around the golf course when he can't really play himself around it. But not in Woods' case. No sir. Of course he didn't have the brains. The only way he could possibly win must have been because he had superior athletic skills. Wasn't it?
'You can be yourself,' Tiger says. 'That's something a lot of people don't realize.'
A lot of people don't realize it because they are too busy being busybodies. Or maybe they are just tired of the hype. Tiger certainly had a lot of it coming in, hype that he certainly had nothing to do with. And undoubtedly the wealth has gone way beyond anyone's expectations, but is he wrong to take it? Are film actors or rock stars wrong to take it? Woods actually can quantify what his endorsement means in the way of increased sales to his corporations.
But Woods agrees that when he first became a professional, he wasn't always, shall we say, polished.
'When I first came out on tour, I had been at Stanford with all these brilliant people, all these Olympians, and people telling me, `Everything you do is special?'' he says. 'And I'm thinking, `Right.' I was very uncomfortable.'
Woods is honest as well as direct. Too honest, as a matter of fact. When he says, 'In 10, 15, 20 years, some kid is going to come along who blows me out of the water,' - yes, he said that - you wonder just who that could possibly be. It hasn't happened yet in our lifetime. Maybe in 15, maybe in 20 years, but does that sound like someone who is full of himself?
He expresses himself very well in press conferences. The occasional bad-shot temper tantrums aside, his conduct on the golf course is exemplary. He is popular with his fellow players. He is intelligent and he has a personality. The years are molding him just fine and he's growing into quite a young man.
I first saw him as a 15-year-old and I felt then he had a slight case of exaggerated self-worth. He was playing his first junior amateur title - he would go on to win - and he might have swaggered a bit much for my liking. His sports psychologist was his caddie and his father was always between him and the press. It didn't engender real good vibes. But hey - he was a kid, and kids nowadays do a lot worse.
Later, I covered a U.S. Amateur where his deportment wasn't exactly my cup of tee. He was a little flip with his answers and standoffish. I didn't find a whole lot to like then, either.
But even then he was still a kid, for Chrissakes. I believe he was 18. He was still full of spunk, and maybe he let it show just a little too much.
By the time he was 22, though, there was absolutely no reason not to like him. Today, if you can find something wrong with that personality, you have to be awfully thin-skinned. He expresses himself wonderfully well. He is, as they say, wise beyond those tender years.
If you sit through an interview, a press conference, today, how can you not like him? He dissects a round as well as anyone. He is totally candid, totally frank. His answers are thoughtful and to the point.
He isn't a kid anymore. He's a young man, as good a person as he is a golfer.
Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers
CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.
Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.
While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.
“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”
Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.
“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”
Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close
CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.
McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.
“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”
The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.
“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”
He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.
“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”
Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence
CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.
Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.
Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.
It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.
“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”
Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.
“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”
Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection
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.”
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.”