Meeting the King for the first time

By Joe PosnanskiSeptember 10, 2016, 3:40 pm

About 25 years ago – sheesh, really, 25 years? – I covered my first Masters. It was, coincidentally, the first golf tournament I had ever covered. I had been hired blindly as columnist for the Augusta Chronicle because, well, you’d have to ask them. I had never played a round of golf. And my only experience as a golf writer was the community golf notebook I would do for York Observer in Rock Hill, S.C., and even that I messed up routinely. I remember once talking to one of the organizers of a local charity golf tournament, and he was explaining to me that it was a Captain’s Choice tournament.

“What’s that?” I asked. He explained the Captain’s Choice format – all players hitting and then everyone playing the best ball – and I was so blown away by the novelty of this that I wrote the first eight paragraphs of the column about this cool new way to play golf. An editor (who was, as she often told me, almost oblivious to golf and sports in general) saved me by pointing out that Captain’s Choice is essentially the most popular charity golf format on planet earth and probably all other planets. She found it both hilarious and frightening that I did not know this.

Still, the Augusta Chronicle – which, you might expect, cares quite a bit about golf – hired me to write sports columns. And that made me the lead columnist for the Augusta paper at the 1992 Masters. It still boggles the mind.

As you might imagine, I was all but helpless leading into the tournament. I had no idea where to go, what to do, who to talk with, how to write any of it.

On the first day, I watched Arnold Palmer come in from his practice round. He was, let’s see here, 62 years old then, still strong, still full of the energy and life that had made him golf’s most iconic figure. I knew him from the Pennzoil commercials, mostly. He had not made the cut at Augusta in a few years but there was still a sense of possibility about him then, still a sense that he just might have one more charge left in him.

He came off the course after that practice round, and he was in the best of spirits, of course. I’m sure he has had his dark moods but in public, he was always ecstatic; his mood always seemed to say, “I’m Arnold Palmer. OF COURSE I’m having a good day.” He answered a couple of reporters’ questions under the marvelous oak tree that stands in front of the Augusta National clubhouse. I wandered over. I supposed that as the columnist for the Augusta Chronicle, I should introduce myself to the King. But I’ve never really been good at that sort of thing.

I waited for everyone to finish. Eventually, the other two or three reporters sort of faded off, and it was just me and Arnie. At this point, it might have been good for me to have a question in mind or an introduction or something, but I did not have any of that so I kind of just stood there and looked at him. It was probably no more than three seconds, but it felt like I stood there silent for about 20 years. Finally, someone spoke, but it wasn’t me. It was Palmer.

“How are you doing today?” he asked me.

I have absolutely no idea why he said that. The normal thing for athletes to do – and by “normal” I mean I have never seen a single other athlete do what Palmer did – is to walk away as soon as the last question is asked. But Palmer stuck around. He somehow sensed that I wanted to talk with him. He somehow sensed that I was nervous. He somehow sensed that he could help me.

His words shook me from the paralysis I’d been feeling, and I introduced myself. I was wearing a badge that said “AUGUSTA CHRONICLE” on it, and I suspect he saw that. He mentioned several of the people at the Chronicle he had known through the years. He told me he thought the paper had always been good to him. He told me the phrase “Arnie’s Army” had started with a headline in the Chronicle (though it had been coined by a G.I. whose name, unfortunately, is lost to history). He told me I had an important legacy to keep. And he asked me what I was planning to write about.

In my own stumbling way, I told him that I wasn’t too knowledgeable about golf. I think I told him this by asking him a series of increasingly dumber questions. He smiled and made a suggestion or two, I don’t remember what those were. I do remember that he put his hand on my shoulder and said, “I’ll keep my eye on you.”

And for the rest of that tournament, into the next year and the next, whenever I would see Arnold Palmer, whenever our eyes would meet, he would give me a little thumbs up sign. I took that at the time to mean he had read my columns and approved what I was doing but, in retrospect, it probably did not mean that at all. It probably meant simply, “Hey, kid, I remember you.”

Fortunately, the magic works either way.

Arnold Palmer is probably not one of the four greatest players in the history of the game. He’s not Tiger or Jack, he’s not Hogan or Jones, and you can argue on from there. But if there was a Mount Rushmore for golf, he would be on it. He would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore in part because of the way he played with his jerky swing and his go-for-broke style. He smoked his cigarettes and rode the wind and cheers and the momentum. He simply changed the way people looked at the game as a spectator sport. He made the game thrilling.

He would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore in part because of the way he lit up the television screen. Golf on television made no sense to a lot of people in the 1950s; the sport seemed too massive and too undramatic for television. Then came the King. “The cameras loved Palmer,” the legendary sports television producer Frank Chirkinian said. “He would show up on the screen and it was like: ‘WHAM!'”

And Arnold Palmer would be on Golf’s Mount Rushmore mostly because of the way he engaged with people. He chatted with the crowd. He made them feel a part of his successes … and his failures. He was just a regular guy, a factory worker or auto mechanic or longshoreman who happened to play golf. He took the sport out of the country clubs. He inspired countless people to buy a golf club at yard sales and swing at a few whiffle balls in the back yard.

Arnie turns 87 today, and I think about many things, but I especially think about his kindness. Years later, I mentioned to him our first meeting. He smiled as if he remembered, though he surely did not, and he said: “Well, you turned out OK.” And then he walked off to make someone else’s life a little bit brighter.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.