These guys aren't vanilla: Pros speaking out over schedule

By Jason SobelSeptember 9, 2014, 7:36 pm

ATLANTA – We often hear this tired refrain, usually decried by hackneyed observers far removed from day-to-day insights into the game: Golfers are boring. They’re vanilla. They’re bland. Never say an interesting word, let alone a controversial one. Never have a strong take from their perch atop the middle of the fence.

This is a stance which has afflicted the game for years, drummed into the heads of golfers who might not have realized how unremarkable they really are. But it’s forced a change. They’ve gradually become more cognizant of it, especially younger players who haven’t been coached up in the language of rhetoric and might be too naïve to be unthoughtful.

What’s happened as a result isn’t quite a revolution, but it is a revelation: These guys are intelligent, own strong opinions and aren’t afraid to let the world hear certain viewpoints. Maybe not on weighty political affairs, but at least on the world as it affects them.

All of which leads us to recent perceived moaning and groaning about the FedEx Cup playoffs and the latest Catch-22 which has ensconced the game.

As it stands, these players – the ones who don’t want to be considered boring or uninteresting or fence-sitters – have been asked about the grind of competing four straight weeks after a grueling season. They are questioned about fatigue and focus. The queries are undoubtedly leading the witnesses.

To their credit, most have spoken their minds. They’ve been completely honest on how they feel about competing so many weeks in a row without so much as a brief respite.

“I'm in desperate need of some rest,” defending FedEx Cup champion Henrik Stenson said before being ousted from the playoffs. “Of course, it's a little disappointment not making it back. ... It wasn't to be this year, but I finally get a bit of a break. You know, if you got some of the guys who are playing 66 percent of my schedule are worn out and struggling, I guess you can understand that I'm a little bit fatigued as well.”

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“Somehow managed to not fall over this week,” Geoff Ogilvy admitted after last week’s BMW Championship. “I'm pretty tired. The altitude wears you out. And this many tournaments in a row wears you out, too. ... To be honest with you, I'm not a hundred percent excited about playing golf next week, but I'm really excited about what making the Tour Championship does for you.”

“It's been a long year, a lot of tournaments,” agreed Sergio Garcia. “A lot of tournaments out there and that also take as little bit out of you. But I can't be disappointed with it.”

It’s not just them, either. From Phil Mickelson taking his ball and going home after two rounds last week to Rory McIlroy lacking so much focus that he four-putted the same green on consecutive days, players’ words are being endorsed by their actions – and vice versa.

This is a decidedly bad look, no matter which way you slice (or hook) it. When your vocation is professional golfer, people don’t like to hear complaints about your vocation very often.

All of which has led to the laymen among us – you know, those unfortunate scamps who don’t have an opportunity to earn millions of dollars this week and haven’t been forced to play golf for the past month without a break – criticizing the criticism.

It’s a fool’s errand, this business of requesting more honesty, then denouncing the comments wrought from such candor. And yet, the never-ending cycle continues, with thoughts on the FedEx Cup serving as the latest example.

It also hints at a perilous future, one which will only reinforce the stereotypes. If players speak their minds on such issues and remain castigated for their honesty, fewer will continue to be so open.

As it relates to this current topic, maybe it won’t matter that much going forward.

“We don't like playing four weeks in a row in the playoffs, either,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said in response to the prevailing opinion. “We think in the playoffs there should be a break week. We didn't do that this year for some unusual reasons. I can tell you right now it's not going to happen in the next few years. We already know basically the schedule – and there will be a break week.”

That should be received as excellent news for those who have had the gall to speak their minds recently.

Hopefully it will be considered a win for those making their opinions known. Because the last thing we should wish for is a group of boring, vanilla, fence-sitters amongst the game’s best players. Their criticisms might forever be criticized, but it still beats the alternative.

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Ball headed O.B., Stone (68) gets huge break

By Mercer BaggsJuly 19, 2018, 2:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brandon Stone knew it when he hit it.

“I knew I hit it out of bounds,” the South African said following his opening round in the 147th Open Championship.

Stone’s second shot on the par-4 18th, from the left fescue, was pulled into the grandstands, which are marked as O.B. But instead of settling in with the crowd, the ball ricocheted back towards the green and nearly onto the putting surface.

Stone made his par and walked away with a 3-under 68, two shots off the early lead.

“I really didn’t put a good swing on it, bad contact and it just came out way left,” Stone said. “I feel so sorry for the person I managed to catch on the forehead there, but got a lucky break.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“When you get breaks like that you know you’re going to have good weeks.”

It’s been more than just good luck recently for Stone. He shot 60 in the final round – missing a 9-foot birdie putt for the first 59 in European Tour history – to win last week’s Scottish Open. It was his third career win on the circuit and first since 2016. It was also just his first top-10 of the season.

“A testament to a different mental approach and probably the change in putter,” said Stone, who added that he switched to a new Ping Anser blade model last week.

“I’ve been putting, probably, the best I have in my entire life.”

This marks Stone’s sixth start in a major championship, with his best finish a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open. He has a missed cut and a T-70 in two prior Open Championships.

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Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated,” taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor. Kang made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.