Being No. 1 a great honor with immense pressure

By Jason SobelMarch 18, 2013, 4:00 pm

Stacy Lewis was only minutes removed from a final-round 64 that gave her a three-stroke victory at the RR Donnelly LPGA Founders Cup on Sunday, thrusting her into the spotlight as the game’s newest No. 1-ranked player, when she was asked about the notable burden of reaching that level.

Without hesitation, she smiled. Relishing the question and the upcoming opportunity to prove herself worthy, Lewis confidently claimed, “I love having that pressure.”

Time will tell whether she still loves it in the weeks, months and possibly even years to come. You can make a lot of enemies and ultimately appear foolish doubting a player who spent a hefty part of her childhood in a back brace due to scoliosis, but there’s no denying the disconcerting trend among top-ranked players recently.

It sounds like a flummoxing riddle: What does every professional golfer wish they had until they actually have it? The answer, though, is nothing to laugh at. It’s the world’s No.-1 ranking.

Ask any elite player about long-term goals and it won’t be long before they utter some semblance of the following: “To be the best in the world.” And yet, those who talk the talk find it difficult to walk the walk. After literally walking off the golf course three weeks ago at the Honda Classic, Rory McIlroy spoke about the pressures of playing with that bull’s-eye on his back.

“It's not like this is a new position,” he contended, sounding more like he was trying to convince himself  than anyone else. “I was sitting here this time last year, you know, just went to No. 1 in the world, so I guess I've had a year to get adjusted to it and get used to it. So it shouldn't be a problem.

“[But] you want to sort of prove that you are No. 1 and that's not the right way to go about things. You shouldn't have to try and prove that. You should just go out and play your game and if you play well enough, the rankings and the results will speak for themselves.”

Those words alone could prompt a special kinship between McIlroy and Yani Tseng, who held the top spot in the women’s game for more than two full years before being bounced by Lewis this week.

“Before I was No. 1, and when I became No. 1, I would tell myself to smile, and I would smile,” Tseng said prior to officially losing her position. “Last year, it was so hard. I would tell myself to smile, and it looked like a fake smile, like it wasn’t really coming from inside.”

Call me cynical, but I have a tough time believing that placing a straight number instead of a crooked one in front of someone’s name, based solely on a statistical formula, can result in that much added pressure. Then again, there are only a handful of golfers who understand this quandary. Since the men’s ranking was implemented in 1986, only 16 players have held the No. 1 position; meanwhile, Lewis is just the seventh in the women’s game since 2006.

According to most, it’s the confluence of external pressure leading to internal pressure which accounts for the majority of tumultuous supremacies.

“I think everyone's looking up to the guy at No. 1,” Luke Donald, who held that position for 56 weeks, said recently. “They expect results. I expect results out of myself, too. You just feel like you need to perform and I think it's just a little added pressure that you put on yourself.”

Perhaps it’s only fitting that in this time, when being the lead dog apparently comes with additional strain, the one player who handled it best and for the longest period may be on the verge of regaining such status.

With a successful title defense at this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods will become No. 1 in the world for the 624th week of his career – and the first time since Oct. 30, 2010. In light of McIlroy’s assertion that the top spot comes with added pressure, Woods has been asked about how it affected him as a young player.

See if you can spot the difference between what he maintains and the words of McIlroy, Donald and Tseng.

“It's just one of those things where for me, it happened at 21 years old and I was pretty young, just fresh out of college the year before,” he intoned. “And it happened very quickly for me. I won some tournaments, won the Masters, had a pretty good season in'97. For me, it wasn't necessarily the pressure of being No. 1.  It was more the scheduling. I had never played that much golf, playing around the world. … It (took) me until '99 that I made an adjustment on scheduling and finally got it right and had some pretty good years after that.”

So while most young No. 1 players lament the pressure, Woods said it most affected his … schedule. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for those who bemoan the struggles of dealing with a starring role in the spotlight.

Somewhere in here lies a lesson for the newly crowned Lewis. While other recent No. 1 players may pass along the warning, “Careful what you wish for,” the advice from Woods may come closer to, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”

Not that becoming No. 1 is any small feat, but those who treat the ranking as less of a burden ultimately seem the least burdened by it over the long haul. It’s a delicate paradox, one which has left a number of top players feeling what Tseng called “a great release” after finally relinquishing the honor.

For now, after holding the No. 1 spot for mere minutes, Lewis insisted, “I love having that pressure.” Others have made similar brash statements, only to find later that the love doesn’t continue as the pressure grows. Now it’s her turn.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”