Tiger's birthday brings more speculation than celebration

By Jason SobelDecember 30, 2012, 5:07 pm

On Sunday, I woke up and checked Twitter, which is sort of a reflex impulse these days. When used as a news and information source, the tool can provide a personal feed complete with facts you want and largely devoid of those which hold little interest. It's like watching the nightly news, but fast-forwarding through the parts you don’t need.

In this instance, I was immediately reminded that Dec. 30 is Tiger Woods' birthday. He turned 37 on Sunday.

Rather than supportive shouts of, 'Happy birthday!' or playful jabs at being over the hill, the mass reaction to this milestone was speculation as to how it will factor in his long-term career goals.

(To be fair, I'm not complaining about that. An entire feed of birthday wishes would probably be cause for more than a few unfollows. Remember: Twitter is all about customizing your own news and information. I’ll take analysis and debate over puffed up pasturage any day.)

I was initially met with tweets from fellow journalists in the golf community who took the occasion to compare Woods' career accomplishments before 37 with those of Jack Nicklaus. And more importantly, reminders of what the man he's chasing accomplished after this point in his life.

It turns out Nicklaus won four majors once turning 37 – one of each – so the unwritten logic not so subtly suggests that Woods must win more majors at a later age if he hopes to pass the major championship record of 18.

And yes, that's been a long-standing career goal, commenced not long after Tiger first took a few whacks on The Mike Douglas Show a mere 35 years ago. Just ask him, because it seems like everyone else has over the past three-and-a-half decades. He wants one record more than any other in his career, and that’s to pass the man whose poster adorned his bedroom wall as a child.

Personal goals are what give each of us the motivation and inspiration to continue improving on a daily basis. It’s when those personal goals become the expectations of others that the lines become blurred. Among his many philosophical musings, the innovative martial artist Bruce Lee often used to say, “I'm not in this world to live up to your expectations and you're not in this world to live up to mine.”

I was reminded of this quote upon reading the statistically based reactions to Woods’ birthday. His entire career – with 74 career PGA Tour victories and 14 major titles – has been broken down to one simple, and so far, unanswerable question: Will he or won’t he? As in, will Woods pass Nicklaus and be remembered as the greatest golfer of all-time, or will he fail to meet his stated goal and come up agonizingly short?

The debate makes for great 19th hole fodder, especially because neither opinion can be proven wrong until he’s no longer competitive. But it also serves as a sad commentary on how we view superstars. Being great isn’t good enough; failing to be the best is still failure.

Think about it this way: If you were, statistically speaking, the second-greatest doctor or plumber or insurance salesman of all-time, wouldn’t you consider that a successful career? Well, what if you had told everyone that you only wanted to be the greatest, that anything less was failure? And what if, instead of celebrating your accomplishments, those around you only speculated as to whether you would ever fulfill that lifelong goal?

It’s hard to feel sorry for a guy who is, at the very worst, the second-best golfer ever from a statistical standpoint, but it can’t be easy living with the constant pressure – both internally and from external sources – over reaching that goal of becoming the best.

With each candle that is added to Woods’ birthday cake, and each year that passes with the odometer stuck on 14, (he’s gone four straight now) Dec. 30 becomes a day less for celebration and more for speculation. It becomes another reminder that time is no longer on his side, that even matching Nicklaus’ career from here on in will leave him with “only” 18 major championships.

For a man who has so clearly set his sights on 19 to pass him, second place is the first loser – a notion Woods has often reminded us about when finishing runner-up at specific tournaments. It’s gotten to the point, though, where so much debate about his future has turned into a caricature of our society. Only one person can claim the title of best ever, but that shouldn’t relegate everyone else to the position of failure, no matter their stated goals.

Even so, people on Twitter and other sources used Woods’ birthday as a platform for further speculation about the most speculative question in the game today. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering he placed such lofty expectations on himself before the masses also wielded this anticipation.

For most, birthdays are reason for revelry and jubilation, with a hint of ennui toward turning a year older mixed in for good measure. For Woods – and for those of us who follow his career – it’s another reminder that with each year that passes, he’s either closer to reaching his goal or closer to coming up short. That’s a hell of a burden to have to bear.

As one person tweeted to me Sunday morning, “Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.” Perhaps that bit of Shakespearean wisdom could be amended to he who chases a crown, as well.

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Bhatia loses U.S. Am match after caddie-cart incident

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 2:21 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – One of the hottest players in amateur golf had his U.S. Amateur run end Wednesday under unusual circumstances.

Akshay Bhatia, the 16-year-old left-hander who has been dominating the junior golf circuit over the past year, squandered a late lead in his eventual 19-hole loss to Bradford Tilley in the Round of 64.

Bhatia was all square against Tilley as they played Pebble Beach’s par-5 14th hole. After knocking his second shot onto the green, Bhatia and his caddie, Chris Darnell, stopped to use the restroom. Bhatia walked up to the green afterward, but Darnell asked what he thought was a USGA official for a ride up to the green.

“The gentleman was wearing a USGA pullover,” Darnell explained afterward. “I asked if I could get a ride to the green to keep up pace, and he said yes. So I hopped on the back, got up to the green, hopped off and thought nothing of it.”

Conditions of the competition prohibit players and caddies from riding on any form of transportation during a stipulated round unless authorized.

It turns out that the cart that Darnell rode on was not driven by a USGA official. Rather, it was just a volunteer wearing USGA apparel. A rules official who was in the area spotted the infraction and assessed Bhatia an adjustment penalty, so instead of winning the hole with a birdie-4 to move 1 up, the match remained all square.

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Even more interesting was what Darnell said happened earlier in the match.

“I had already seen the other caddie in our group do it on the ninth hole,” Darnell said. “Same thing – USGA pullover, drove him from the bathroom up to the fairway – so I assumed it was fine. I didn’t point it out at the time because everything seemed kosher. He had the USGA stuff on, and I didn’t think anything of it.”

Bhatia won the 15th hole to go 1 up, but lost the 17th and 19th holes with bogeys to lose the match. He didn’t blame the outcome on the cart incident.  

“What can you do? I’ll have plenty of opportunities to play in this tournament, so I’m not too upset about it,” he said. “It’s just frustrating because I deserved to win that match. That wasn’t the outcome I wanted, but I can’t do anything about it.”

Bhatia, of Wake Forest, N.C., has been a dominant force in the junior ranks, going back-to-back at the Junior PGA (including this dramatic hole-out), capturing the AJGA Polo, taking the Sage Valley Invitational and reaching the finals of the U.S. Junior.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.