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Weekly 18: Bubba, Kim provide plenty of fireworks

Fourth of July
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Nick Watney is a true American hero.

Because he won the AT&T National on Fourth of July weekend? Not really. Because he supports the Birdies for the Brave program? Well, yes, but that’s not why.

No, Watney is a hero because his latest victory keeps us from having to discuss the “dire” state of American golf, especially amongst the younger generation.

Well, for this week, at least.

This edition of the Weekly 18 begins with the notion that the lack of strong, young American golfers is overrated, overblown and perhaps over, period.

 1. Red, White and (Not So) Blue

The year was 2007. Charles Howell III had just lost the Sony Open in heartbreaking fashion, parlaying a two-stroke lead with nine holes to play into a one-shot loss at the hands of Paul Goydos.

At the time, the defeat was emblematic of young American golfers. As a group, they were talented, but had a knack for failing to close when the pressure was on.

And so not more than 10 minutes after Howell had trudged off the course and sat down in the interview room at Waialae Country Club, I asked him about the phenomenon.

“Much has been made about the current state of American golfers under the age of 30,” I said. “What do you think about it?”

“I don't understand it, to be honest with you,” he responded. “I don't even want to comment on it. I think it's ridiculous. I think American golf under 30 is fine. If you look across the board, if you look at the guys playing nowadays, I don't buy into that, no.”

Four-and-a-half years later, the story is relevant for a few different reasons.

First off, it’s interesting to note the symmetry, with Howell placing T-3 at Aronimink this past week. Now 32, though, he was one of the older American players on the leaderboard, sandwiched between Nick Watney at 30 and Jeff Overton at 28, and up there with the likes of Chris Stroud (28), Chris Kirk (26), Webb Simpson (25) and Rickie Fowler (22).

All of which leads to a greater relevancy: The end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it – or at least end of American golf – scenario suggested by some after Rory McIlroy’s trouncing of the U.S. Open field is not only premature.

It’s cyclical.

That’s right.  Been there, done that.

At one point in 1992, the top four spots on the Official World Golf Ranking were all occupied by non-American players – just as they are now. Two years later, the reigning four majors winners were all non-American players – just as they are now.

Let’s not overreact to Watney’s victory. It didn’t come at a major, didn’t even come at a tournament with any of the world’s top 14 players in the field – although the winner did ascend to No. 10 afterward.

That said, it should serve as a pertinent reminder that American golf isn’t taking as much of a downturn as many have led to believe.

As for young American golfers, well, that’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it?

There are those who believed that three months ago, Watney was an up-and-coming 20-something. Now? Just another underachieving 30-something.

The reality is, there is no black-and-white here. Most players aren’t necessarily “good” or “bad,” nor are they “young” or “old.” Many players develop with time and every player sees peaks and valleys throughout his career.

American golf as a whole may be withstanding a collective valley right now, but the so-called current state of futility is disproportionate to the results. Circumstances aren’t nearly as dire as they have been made out to be; it’s something that’s always been and always will be cyclical.

In fact, ask me about this notion and I may just repeat what Howell told me years ago: “I don't understand it, to be honest with you.” 

 Three Up

Nick Watney 

2. Nick Watney

While it may seem like there’s more parity on the PGA Tour this year than ever before, it should be noted that we had our third multiple winner exactly one day earlier than a year ago.

In 2010, Justin Rose joined Ernie Els and Jim Furyk with his victory at the AT&T National; this year, Watney’s second win of the year equaled the totals of Mark Wilson and Bubba Watson.

As is often the case with parity, expect Watney’s win to bring forth all sorts of questions about his current status.

Is he now the best American player? Is he the best without a major? Is he the leading contender for the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award?

(For my money, I’d answer those queries with, “No,” “Maybe” and “Yes.”)

This victory was less about cementing his place on another level, though, and more about a learning process that dates to last year’s PGA Championship, when he owned the 54-hole lead, but shot a final-round 81 to finish in a share of 18th place.

“I guess it all goes back to the PGA last year,” said Watney, who also won at Doral earlier this year. “Definitely the moment got the best of me, and I performed very badly. But I really feel like I learned a lot that week, especially Sunday, and I knew it was going to be a long, hard day. Even if you come out of the gate, make three birdies, it's going to be a long day.”

Sound familiar? It should, because those are the same type of words spoken recently by Rory McIlroy in the wake of winning the U.S. Open title.

Just goes to show once again, rather than fault the player who falters when the pressure is on, we should only fault those who don’t learn from such mistakes.

3. Corbin Mills and Brianna Do

I always enjoy when a player wins the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship and his list of rewards includes a “likely invitation to next year’s Masters.”

It’s true that the folks who run Augusta National Golf Club may invite whomever they’d like, but tradition dictates the PubLinks winner always gets in, so Mills should expect something in his mailbox just before Christmas.

“It’s always been kind of a dream,” the Easley, S.C., native said after defeating Derek Ernst in 37 holes.

Meanwhile, Do disposed of Marissa Dodd in the WAPL final on Saturday.

Personally, my Twitter feed looked like a Police song all afternoon: “Do-Do-Do-Do, Dodd, Dodd, Dodd, Dodd…”

The rising senior at UCLA beat the incoming Wake Forest freshman, 1-up, in the 36-hole match.

“I don't really know what it feels like right now,” Do said. “I don't think it's hit me. But it feels good as of right now. I don't really know how to describe it.”

4. Thomas Levet

Twenty-five years.

That’s how long Levet had been playing in his country’s national championship. And how long he’d been disappointed by failing to win.

During that time, he had claimed five European Tour titles and nearly grabbed an Open Championship, but the Open de France continued to elude him, year after year.

Until Sunday.

Levet posted a final-round 70 to win by one, then was treated to a celebration that would leave the 2018 Ryder Cup champions at Le Golf National either blushing or envious.

“Just crazy,” he said prior to receiving a champagne bath for the ages. “The way it went today was like a dream. … I just played my game. Tried to hang onto every hole.”

Levet joins Jean-Francois Remesy – back-to-back champion in 2004-05 – as the only Frenchmen to win the event since it became a European Tour staple in 1972. 

 Three Down

 Bubba Watson

5. Bubba Watson

Three weeks ago, Chubby Chandler – agent to golf’s international superstars – lauded Bubba Watson’s decision to compete in a few global tournaments during the year.

“By playing the French Open and Scandinavian Masters, and maybe Asia at the end of the year, that will make Bubba more of a global player,” Chandler told “The younger Americans should definitely follow what Bubba’s doing. He will become very popular doing this. He’s already popular in the United States, but Americans will like seeing him compete elsewhere, just as Europeans like to see their players being successful in the United States.”

Instead, Watson posted scores of 74-74 to miss the cut in France this week – and it appears his joie de vivre has been flushed with the eau de toilette.

Citing poor security and boorish fan behavior, Watson partially blamed outside sources for his play at Le Golf National.

'It's not a normal tournament,' Watson told reporters. 'There's cameras, there's phones, there's everything. There's no security. I don't know which holes to walk through. There's no ropes.

'I'm not used to that. I'm not saying it's bad. It's just something I'm not used to, I'm not comfortable with. It's very strange to me. Just very uncomfortable.'

Watson maintained that he’ll still compete in the upcoming Open Championship – a tournament in which he’s missed the cut each of the last two years – but he isn’t exactly looking forward to it.

'I miss my home,' he said. 'I'll play the British Open because it's a major; that's the only reason,' Watson said. 'I'm going to go sightseeing real quick and then probably sightsee tomorrow [and] get home as fast as possible.'

6. Kenneth Ferrie

Something happened to the player nicknamed Superman down the stretch on Sunday. Maybe he found his kryptonite.

Ferrie wasn’t exactly cruising along at the Open de France, at 6 over through 13 holes, but his scorecard wasn’t embarrassing, either.

He then made a bogey on No. 14. Still, not awful. It was followed by a quadruple-bogey. OK, getting there now. Then a triple. And a bogey. And, finally, a double.

When it was over, Ferrie had played the final five holes in 11 over and posted a score of 88 for the round.

Superman? Not exactly. Based on that number, maybe we should start calling him Piano Keys instead.

7. Vijay Singh

The jokes come free and easy.

Singh withdrew from the AT&T National with a back injury on Saturday. Which means he’ll probably be limited to “only” 20 buckets of balls per range session from now on.

It’s no laughing matter, though.

The three-time major champion was actually playing well at Aronimink, with scores of 68-70 going into the weekend. And while his money list and world ranking statuses have dipped in recent years, he still has some game, as evidenced by a second-place finish at Riviera earlier this year and a third in Phoenix.

At 48, though, you’ve got to wonder if this is the beginning of the end for the Hall of Famer. He didn’t qualify for last month’s U.S. Open, breaking a streak of 67 consecutive major championship appearances, and – depending on the severity of his injury – may be forced to miss the upcoming Open Championship, as well, if he even qualifies for that one.

It would mark the first time since 1992 that Singh will have failed to compete in two straight majors.

 Three Wishes

Bob Hope 

8. I wish the PGA Tour hadn’t made major changes to the erstwhile Bob Hope Classic.

I understand how the golf world works. Tournaments need sponsors because sponsors mean money. And no sponsor wants to throw millions at an event without getting the most bang for its buck.

That said, isn’t there still a little room for tradition? Guess not.

It was announced this week that the tourney which has had Bob Hope’s name attached every year since 1965 will no longer be associated with the late entertainer, other than awarding a trophy named after him. This decision should be met with a hearty “BOOOOO!” from the masses.

Compounding matters is the fact that the event will now sound like a “Survivor” ripoff, consequently known as the Humana Challenge. Doesn’t that just conjure images of players being left in the desert with their clubs and caddies, the first one safely back to the clubhouse declared the winner?

If that wasn’t enough, the tournament will be reduced from a 90-holer to just another four-round, stroke-play event. That may sound fine to the fans, but expect some players to be more than a bit disappointed.

I remember speaking with Joey Sindelar years ago. Granted, he wintered in Upstate New York, but Sindelar would usually skip the Aloha Swing and show up cold – literally – in Palm Springs, knowing he’d be guaranteed 72 holes during which he could shake off the cobwebs.

There aren’t many players who live in cold-weather climates anymore, but plenty of ‘em still enjoy being able to get in four rounds so early in the year.

At least, they did. That won’t happen starting next year at the Hope – er, sorry. I mean, the Humana. Old habits die hard.

9. I wish Tiger Woods’ recent comments about Rory McIlroy’s swing would be taken literally.

Taken at face value, it sounds like an uncharacteristic admission from Tiger Woods.

During his Tuesday news conference, Woods was apprised of Mark O’Meara’s recent comments about young Rory McIlroy. In essence, Tiger’s old buddy claimed that the reigning U.S. Open champion is a better ball-striker at age 22 than his predecessor.

That’s not the shocking part. No, the real shocker is that Woods agreed.

Well, kind of.

“At the same age, yeah,” Woods said. “His swing is definitely better than mine was at the same age.”

10. I wish Robert Garrigus understood the impact of his words.

The golf world reverberated this week with reactions to Garrigus’ admission in a Golf World magazine article that he has not only undergone treatment for a prior drug addiction problem, but used to smoke marijuana in Porta-Johns during Nationwide Tour events.

Yes, the reaction was monumental – even though these “revelations” weren’t exactly news.

Kudos to Garrigus for having the courage to not only confront his addiction, but speak openly about it in public. There’s only one part of his story with which I’ll take issue.

Following the recent article, Garrigus told my colleague Rex Hoggard this week, “My agent hates it because it’s probably costing me [endorsement] money off the course … but I was an idiot and I’m not that person anymore.”

Actually, I beg to differ. Based on the comments from fans, Garrigus didn’t only not cost himself endorsement money, he may have earned himself a few more dollars in the process.

That’s because this is the type of story that resonates with fans. Rather than just be another faceless PGA Tour pro with a curiously short putter, he now owns a visible back-story. People who couldn’t have picked Garrigus out of a lineup previously will root for him because they relate to him. That can only mean even more endorsements in the future.

I’m not suggesting that he went public solely for his financial benefit – in fact, I think it’s quite the opposite – but if Garrigus doesn’t see how it could help enhance his personal revenue stream, then he clearly doesn’t understand how much people covet the comeback story. 

 11. Stat of the Week:

Which statistical category is the greatest determining factor of success for a PGA Tour regular? Well, that’s easy. It’s victories. Next? Even though executives in Ponte Vedra Beach would have us believe it’s FedEx Cup points, the money list still reigns.

Just after that, though, is the all-around ranking, which tabulates players’ totals in eight major stats. Don’t believe it? Just check out the list of the last half-dozen all-around leaders:

2010: Matt Kuchar

2009: Tiger Woods

2008: Pat Perez

2007: Tiger Woods

2006: Tiger Woods

2005: Tiger Woods

There’s a prevailing theme here – and no, it’s not just that when he’s on his game, Woods does everything well. Five of the last six all-around leaders – all except Perez – also finished atop the money list that year, too.

All of which bodes well for current leader … drum roll, please … Webb Simpson.

Simpson is doing everything well this year, and it’s showing on his results table. Though he has yet to break through for his first career victory, his T-8 finish at the AT&T National was his fifth top-10 in 16 starts this season.

He may not lead the money list at season’s end – he was 16th entering this past week – but it’s only a matter of time before Simpson’s multitude of talents lead to the winner’s circle. 

 12. On the Hot Seat

Christina Kim

Last year, Christina Kim earned her first career top-10 at the U.S. Women’s Open, finishing in a share of eighth place.

If the results were tabulated based on performance in interviews, she’d never lose.

In advance of this week’s upcoming edition of the Women's Open, the gregarious Kim broke down the course, while also breaking the chops of one PGA Tour player and breaking a record for comparing deceased hip-hop stars with deceased golf course designers.

Just keep reading. It’ll all make sense in the end.

Q: When most LPGA players dream about what they can accomplish someday, do those dreams kind of look like what Yani Tseng is doing right now?

A: Completely dominating? I would say yeah. But as we’ve seen in LPGA history, there haven’t been many people that have been able to accomplish that. I dreamt of having the Grand Slam by the time I was 22. Apparently the Grand Slam isn’t two regular LPGA victories.

Q: How good is she? Are you surprised by what she’s done?

A: I met her during her rookie year. I played with her and remember thinking she plays like Anthony Kim without being a total douche-nozzle. Can I say that?

Q: Let’s try it.

A: She’s a great kid. I just remember seeing how much flex and strength she had. For me, there are a lot of comparisons between her and Anthony. They’re both Asian and both hit the ball a mile. She’s a nice kid, though. For me, that’s the biggest difference.

Q: Wait, what’s wrong with Anthony?

A: He’s a douche-nozzle. I’ve known him since he was 15 or 16. He tries to be a thug. I was like, dude, you’re Asian and from Palm Springs. He was always very arrogant. You knew he was going to be a big shot one day. He’s just a 'tard. When you grow up with someone, you don’t see them as a superstar. I don’t care how low you wear your jeans, you’re still wearing nerdy glasses. That’s what I’ll remember about him.

Q: Anyone else you want to to take on while you’re at it?

A: Just him and Kevin Na. Those are the only two guys I ever really encountered. Maybe because they were Korean-American, too. Maybe part of it is because they were so damn good at a young age. I couldn’t comprehend that. They popped out of their mothers with golf clubs in their hands; I started a decade later.

Q: Talk to me about this week’s Women’s Open course, The Broadmoor.

A: I’ve seen 27 holes of it now.

Q: There are only 18, you know.

A: I’ve seen the back nine twice! In many ways, it’s a quintessential U.S. Open golf course. It’s lush. It’s more Tupac than Biggie, because it’s all west side. It’s a West Coast golf course, there ain’t no Bermuda. There’s beautiful, thick, lush grass; the greens are poa annua; and they’ve had a very, very, very long winter and no spring, so the greens are brown. Everything else is like black-green, but the greens are kind of brown because I think the poa was killed from the ice this winter. It’s a tough golf course. They’re saying everything breaks away from the mountains, but it’s not like golf ever abides by the laws of gravity. And it feels like it’s playing all 7,000 yards. I thought it would be 10 percent less, but I don’t think it’s playing that short. It’ll make a great challenge, though. The greens remind me of Oakmont. What’s firmer than grass? I don’t know, but they’re just crazy. I don’t know how they’re going to find four hole locations for a tournament, but the USGA always manages to find a flat spot that I wouldn’t have noticed.

Q: We need more Tupac/Biggie references in golf course design.

A: It’s true, though! Maybe it’s more Flo Rida versus Tupac, because it’s even less like the south. There are more Donald Ross courses on the east side.

Q: You just mentioned Tupac, Biggie, Flo Rida and Donald Ross. Solid foursome. Hey, I think we just made it through an entire interview without one “What’s wrong with the LPGA?” question.

A: I don’t think I’ve been asked that all year.

Q: Really? OK, then: What’s wrong with the LPGA?

A: My opinion is nothing. We’re in a phenomenal place and I think it’s been tough for everybody, but I have a feeling 2012 is going to be a great year for us. The Mayans think we only have until Dec. 21. If that’s so, the LPGA is going out with a bang.

 13. Video of the Week

Judging by the more than 638,000 views of this clip on YouTube already, this probably isn’t new to a lot of you. And really, there’s no other reason for posting it this week than the fact that it’s funny. Damn funny.

 14. Fact or Fiction

Patrick Cantlay should have turned pro prior to his recent run.

I’ve always been in favor of letting a player choose his own destiny. If a young kid would rather hang out in college for a few more years rather than crisscrossing the country trying to earn a living, more power to him.

Then again, as I’ve said recently, Cantlay may have wanted to strike while the irons were hot, to use a pun. In his last three starts against the world’s best, the UCLA rising sophomore finished T-21 at the U.S. Open, T-24 at the Travelers Championship and T-20 at the AT&T National.

In doing so, he became just the third amateur since 1980 to make three or more cuts on the PGA Tour in a single season, joining an elite list that includes Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Justin Leonard, Ricky Barnes, Tiger Woods, John Harris, Scott Verplank and Hal Sutton.

You’d think he may be kicking himself right now for not turning pro – and I was thinking the same thing, until I crunched the numbers.

As well as he’s played these past three weeks, it would have given Cantlay about $200,000 in earnings. That’s better than his UCLA per diem, for sure, but would still leave him right around 162nd on the current money list and about $600,000 shy of the 125th position, based on last year’s earnings.

That’s right. The kid who’s turned golf upside-down at times and even carded a 10-under 60 in a PGA Tour round still wouldn’t be anywhere close to securing his status for next season had he declared as a professional prior to teeing it up at Congressional.

All of a sudden, grinding it out at Q-School or laboring on the mini-tours doesn’t sound like as much of a fun proposition, does it? Consider the above statement FICTION – and let’s hope Cantlay enjoys college life for as long as he wants.

 15. Quote of the Week 

“If you have one more surgery, your knee is basically Joan Rivers at this point.” - David Feherty, while interviewing Tiger Woods. Quotes of the Week

 16. From the Inbox

As always, you can reach me on Twitter at @JasonSobelGC with your golf-related questions…

@ elvisgolf Why is it American's like Bubba Watson, make travelling to play golf a chore while the rest of the world does it with ease?

Well, first off, that would be a wildly inaccurate stereotype. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson have used their statuses to grow the game globally over the years. Rickie Fowler impressed me last year when he spoke about the golf IQ of fans at the Open Championship. And if you’re looking for a more recent example, Brendan Steele finished inside the top 10 in France before going to play in Scotland this week. If we’re going let Bubba’s problems with international travel serve as a symbol for all American players, then we should ask the same question about guys like Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy deciding against competing in The Players Championship. I’m not condoning Watson’s actions by any means, but let’s consider these incidents on a case-by-case basis rather than using them as a stereotype for all players of a certain background.

@DKateeb what is it with Fowler? Does he not have mental game to handle lead on Sunday?

Patience, my friend. Has young Rickie Fowler played well in final rounds when he’s been in contention? By and large, no. But I’m a big believer that every such experience only makes a player better the next time he’s in that situation, rather than just adding to his mark of futility. Fowler is young. He’ll get into contention many more times in his career. And once he learns how to win, he may never look back.

@David_primrose do any of the current young americans have the required skill set and patience to win a links tournament?

Absolutely. Even before they each played well at the AT&T National, both Nick Watney and Webb Simpson were high on my list to contend at Royal St. Georges next week. On a course which reportedly has no rough right now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Gary Woodland bang his way onto the leaderboard, either. As we witnessed at the U.S. Open with Kevin Chappell and Robert Garrigus as low Americans, on any given week there are any number of young American players who can at least contend at a major, if not win it.

 17. Photos of the Week

Luke Donald captioned this Twitter picture by explaining how he was doing two things he hadn’t done in a while: Bought tees in the pro shop and pulled his own bag. Hmm, guess being No. 1 in the world doesn’t come with the same advantages it’s always enjoyed Top Photos of the Week

 18. And the winner is ...

U.S. Women 

I like limbs. Enjoy going out on ‘em with my predictions. Especially extra thin ones without much support.

For example, I’m still waiting for Edoardo Molinari to win the recent U.S. Open. Sure, I know Rory McIlroy won by eight shots, but my “secret” formula called for the Italian to claim the trophy.

Maybe it should have stayed a secret, huh?

With all of that in mind, I’m going out on a limb this week so strong that I could tap dance on it during a hurricane. I’m picking Yani Tseng to win the U.S. Women’s Open.

Some players win titles based on talent; others win due to motivation. Tseng has incomparable amounts of each, having just won the Wegmans LPGA Championship by 10 strokes last week and needing a Women’s Open victory to complete the career Grand Slam.

'When I was a rookie,' she told me last year, 'I said my dream was to be the first Chinese player to win a major, then it just came in the first half-year. Sometimes dreams take a long time, but that happened so quickly. Now I'm really looking forward to winning the U.S. Open.'

She may not win by double-digits again, but on the longest course in Women’s Open history, expect the big hitter to prevail once again. And feel free to join me. There’s plenty of room on this limb.