Punch Shot: Will less-is-more approach catch on?

By Randall MellOctober 24, 2013, 5:49 pm

Tiger Woods has cut down his schedule for years and Steve Stricker was competitive as ever while 'semi-retired' last season. Now, in light of Phil Mickelson's recent decision to follow suit in an effort to put more focus on the majors, GolfChannel.com writers debate whether the less-is-more attitude will catch on with other players.


If Phil Mickelson is going to play less to focus on the majors, and Tiger Woods decides to play less to avoid those “tired legs” he felt at the Tour Championship, that’s just more prize money left over for everyone else, more opportunities for victories and ranking points.

So if I’m another elite player, I’m tempted to send a thank-you card to Mickelson and Woods.

If Lefty and Tiger both trim their schedules, will other players follow suit? I don’t think so. The game’s best players know their own strengths and weaknesses. They know when they’re playing too much or too little, and they’re basing it on how their own minds and bodies react, not on what they know about Mickelson or Woods. Rory McIlroy acknowledges he played too little at year’s start. That isn’t based on his comparing his schedule to Mickelson or Woods. It’s Rory knowing Rory.

Now, if Mickelson wins two or three majors with a reduced schedule next year, yeah, it probably will make the game’s other top players look to see if there’s something to this less-is-more thinking. Winning tactics do influence players.


They’re not following Phil’s lead – he’s just the latest to join the less-is-more brigade.

After all, this is not a new concept. Jack Nicklaus was among the first to cut back his schedule, opting to spend more time at home and put more emphasis on the majors, and that’s largely been the driving force behind Tiger Woods’ schedule making for years.

In recent years Adam Scott has followed suit, trimming his schedule to put a premium on only the biggest events, and he’s practically been a factor in each since. Ditto for Steve Stricker, whose first year of “semi-retirement” was arguably one of his best as a pro: eight top 10s in 13 starts.

That scaled-back approach worked for these players, yes, but it might not for others, including Mickelson. Since 1993, he has played 20-plus events in all but three seasons. Lefty said he won’t “put as much importance” on the tournaments that are played well before a major, though he did not say which tournaments he would cut. His is a particularly interesting case, because he has long said he prefers to play the week before a major, meaning Houston, Firestone and maybe even Memphis are all still in the mix.

Point is, a playing schedule is a matter of personal preference. These players know their games, and how best to maximize their performance. Whether the less-is-more approach will work for Phil – like it has for many other top-tier talents – remains to be seen. 


Without a doubt, we’re going to see more guys in their 40s go the Steve Stricker route in coming years.

As much as the romantic notion of traveling week-in, week-out to compete for millions of dollars sounds enticing to those of us who are mere mortals with a club in our hands, do this for a quarter-century and even the coolest job in the world will feel old after a while. Throw in the fact that most golfers of this age have families at home and whopping bank accounts, and the motivation to grind away like Vijay Singh naturally wanes with time.

Perhaps players would be more reticent to give it a try if Stricker had fallen flat on his face in semi-retirement, but the argument can be made that more time spent away from the game actually helped him inside the ropes. And really, it’s nothing Tiger Woods hasn’t been doing for years, too. Sometimes less is more. Even though a player would have 10 more chances to win by competing in 30 tournaments rather than 20, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he’ll win more often.

If you’re a player like Ernie Els or Lee Westwood or Jim Furyk or so many others, there’s more motivation at this point in your well-established career to be home resting up and preparing for the big tournaments than to put more miles on the private jet. Phil Mickelson will be the next one to go this route in 2014. Don’t be surprised when others continue the copycat process in the near future.


While Phil Mickelson appears ready to embrace a truncated schedule in 2014 – one from which Steve Stricker yielded unexpected levels of success this year – I don’t anticipate many of the world’s best going down a similar road.

A conservative baseline estimate would be 10 starts for an upper-echelon player: four majors, three of four FedEx Cup Playoff events, two of four WGC events and The Players Championship. Most will play in at least 11 of those tournaments, if not 12 or even all 13. From there, players are likely to add a handful of top-tier events, not to mention tournament starts tied to sponsor relationships. While not every top-ranked player will choose the schedule of Brandt Snedeker or Matt Kuchar, who both made 23 starts on the PGA Tour last season, most will find a way to make at least 16-17 starts per year, as Adam Scott and Justin Rose did in 2013.

Additionally, players like Stricker and Mickelson are in unique positions: the former clearly placing an emphasis on his life off the course, while the latter now has a singular focus around which to shape each year’s schedule: the U.S. Open. Both now have a certain degree of financial flexibility, having made more than $35 million in on-course earnings during their respective careers, and neither appears particularly concerned with his position in the world rankings. That’s their prerogative, but it’s hardly going to become the norm. For the vast majority of players, even the best in the world, a relatively full-time slate of at least 16-20 starts will still remain the most effective way to keep their golf games sharp – and keep up in the rankings at the same time.


Welcome to the era of less is more.

Phil Mickelson said this week he plans to tailor his schedule to peak at the majors. When pressed for exactly what that means, Lefty figured he’d trim about 25 percent from his historical lineup.

Over the last 10 years he’s played an average of 20.7 events, which means he would play five fewer events. End of the world, right?

Consider that’s more than one more event that Tiger Woods has averaged over his last eight seasons (13.75). Consider that’s two more events than prolific part-timer Steve Stricker played in 2013. Quality over quantity has worked out pretty well for those two.

When Mickelson says, “My whole purpose and focus will be ... participating in certain tournaments that will help me play well in those majors.” He means that another missed cut at The Greenbrier Classic – he is 0-for-3 making it to the weekend on the Old White Course – or another pedestrian effort at Bay Hill, where he hasn’t posted a top-10 finish since 2002, does little to prepare him to complete the final leg of the career Grand Slam (U.S. Open) and add to his major legacy.

From fewer starts comes greater focus; it’s a truth that Woods has spent more than a decade proving and a strategy that is likely to become a trend among the top players.

Getty Images

Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

Getty Images

Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

Getty Images

DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Full bracket | Scoring | Group standings

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

Getty Images

Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.