McIlroy dealing with crippling pressure of being No. 1

By Joe PosnanskiMarch 4, 2013, 1:32 pm

(Editor's note: Joe Posnanski is a national columnist for When his topic is golf related, you can read him here on

Friday morning, Rory McIlroy hit into the water on his ninth hole of the day. He was already 7 over par, well on his way to shooting a round in the 80s, and he did what millions of golfers around the world have done at some point after hitting a golf ball into the water. He walked off the golf course. He went to his car. And he went home.

Later, McIlroy would explain that he withdrew because of an agonizing toothache – he’d been putting off having his wisdom teeth removed. Some people believe the toothache story. Some believe that he walked off because he’s playing terrible golf, because he’s frustrated with his game and his equipment, and, simply, because he is becoming overwhelmed by the intense pressure of being the No. 1 player in the world.

I don’t see why you have to choose just one of those options. I would guess it’s all a little bit true. His teeth probably are hurting him. And I would also guess that Rory McIlroy, for the moment anyway, is feeling kind of lost.

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It’s no easy trick being the No. 1 golfer in the world. That spot has eaten up some pretty good players through the years. Think about Nick Price for a moment. For a year or so span in the mid-1990s, Price was the No. 1 player in the world – he had won three majors in a little more than two years.

Nick Price is one of the nicest people on earth … and he’s a great player. But there was something a little bit different about him when he arrived at The Masters in 1995 having won the British Open and PGA Championship. You could sense that he wasn’t entirely there. You could tell he wasn’t entirely sure that he even wanted to win and deal with even more intense pressure. He shot 5 over par for two days and missed the cut. He did not win on the PGA Tour for two and a half years.

Think about David Duval for a moment. For 14 weeks in 1999, Duval was the No. 1 player – this just before Tiger Woods took over the world. Duval was known for his intense competitiveness and singular focus. When Tiger raised his game to previously unseen heights – winning four majors in a row in 2000-01 – Duval was one of only a handful of players to try and run with him.

But after Duval won the British Open in 2001, his game, rather quickly disintegrated. He finished in the top six at the Masters every year from 1998-2001; he has not since made a Masters cut. He has not finished in the top 20 at the British Open since winning it. His body broke down. He suffered from vertigo. Something changed mentally, too.

Think about Martin Kaymer for a moment. He won the PGA Championship in 2010 in a playoff against Bubba Watson. Early the next year, he became the No. 1-ranked player in the world. He would say it didn’t matter much, it was only a number, it did not mean he was actually the No. 1 player in the world. Nevertheless, he then completely rebuilt his swing so that he could hit a draw – a shot that gently moves from right to left and is particularly useful at the Masters – and he mostly stopped winning, stopped competing at the majors, and tumbled in the rankings. He’s now trying to work his way back up again.

Yes, the top spot in golf can be utterly crushing — all of this just makes you appreciate Woods’ period of dominance even more. He held the No. 1 spot six times before holding it for two extended periods (from Aug. '99 to Sept. 2004 and June 2005 to Oct. 2010). I think the pressure of that top spot in golf is more crippling than being No. 1 in any other sport … and I have a theory about the reason. Other sports are played in full motion. There isn’t much time to think before you hit a passing shot, or duck a left-hook, or catch a ball in traffic, or hit a fastball. So much of the game is reaction.

But in golf, there is nothing but time to think. You walk around a golf course for four-plus hours, surrounded by people, and it’s quiet, and it’s warm, and there’s pressure, and the mind can go anywhere. A 4-foot putt at the U.S. Open shouldn’t be any tougher than the same 4-foot putt for five bucks against your buddy. But, the mind wanders into places that aren’t helpful. The mind considers history. The mind recalls a similar putt you missed in a high school tournament. The mind ponders how much money is on the line or how many people are watching.

These guys are pros, of course, and they train themselves to not think about any of this, to keep their thoughts positive and their visualizations clear … but it isn’t easy. And then, suddenly, a player is No. 1. And it all explodes. Every putt is world news. Reporters are everywhere. Everything you say is a headline, every opinion you offer (about golf or not) is analyzed and scrutinized. Expectations are insane – a bad round leads newscasts around the world. Whispers surround you. People invest hopes in you. It’s a lot to deal with. It’s hard to keep your bearings.

McIlroy is a great kid, everybody says so, and he seems to have his head on straight. He exudes joy. He has this big smile on his face most of the time. He is self-effacing without humble-bragging. He is competitive without going over the top. When golfers talk about him, they go on and on about his maturity.

But here’s the thing: McIlroy is 23 years old, and though he’s been under the microscope for a long while, it has never been to this magnification level. He signed a massive contract with Nike Golf during the offseason. He missed the cut in his first start of the year at Abu Dhabi. He lost in the opening round of match play last week. And now this. He will make mistakes. He will wilt under some of the pressure at times. It’s natural. And it’s human.

Jack Nicklaus – who handled the No. 1 spot in the world better than anyone in golf history – said it best. He said that McIlroy should not have walked off the golf course. He also said that if McIlroy had slowed down and spent five minutes thinking about it, he would not have walked off. It was a young and headstrong man dealing with all the unnerving disappointment of a game falling apart and all the pressures of being No. 1 for the first time in his life. He’s also dealing with new equipment that doesn’t feel right and a game that has been moldy all season and probably some tooth pain.

If there’s one thing that McIlroy has already shown in his young career, though, it is a remarkable ability to bounce back. Remember the way he imploded at the 2011 Masters? He handled himself beautifully afterward, and a few weeks later ran away with the U.S. Open. He was having a dreadful 2012 major season – 40th at the Masters, missed cut in his U.S. Open defense, 60th at the British Open – and then he ran away with the PGA Championship and won back-to-back weeks in September.

Nicklaus predicts McIlroy will learn from this, get better from this, and that seems a pretty sound bet. But it’s also a sound bet that there will be other rough patches for McIlroy as he figures out how to be the No. 1 player in the world without letting it consume him or his game.

I once asked Tom Watson how much different it was trying to become the best player in the world and trying to remain the best player in the world? He said he never thought of it that way. Then he said something quirky. He said that to be the best, you have to believe you are the best. And at the same time, he said, you can never believe you are the best. I said that those two beliefs contradict each other. He smiled and nodded.

Read more Joe Posnanski columns:

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Mickelson: 'Not my finest moment ... 'I'm sorry'

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 2:41 pm

Days after his putter swipe ignited a controversy that threatened to overshadow the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offered an apology.

Mickelson received a two-shot penalty for purposely hitting his ball while it was still in motion on the 13th green during the third round at Shinnecock Hills. In the eyes of the USGA, his actions fell short of a disqualification for a “serious breach” of the rules, and the 48-year-old ultimately matched his age with a T-48 finish after returning to play the final round.

Mickelson declined to speak to reporters after a Sunday 66, but Wednesday he sent a note to a select group of media members that included Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte in which the five-time major champ offered some contrition.

“I know this should’ve come sooner, but it’s taken me a few days to calm down. My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” Mickelson wrote. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

Mickelson’s actions drew ire from both media members and his fellow competitors, with members of both groups implying that his actions merited disqualification. His most recent remarks seem to indicate that the decision to run up and stop his ball from tumbling back across the 13th green was more of an impulse than the calculated use of the rule book he described after the third round at Shinnecock.

“It’s certainly not meant (to show disrespect). It’s meant to take advantage of the rules as best you can,” Mickelson said Saturday. “In that situation I was just, I was just going back and forth. I’ll gladly take the two shots over continuing that display.”

Mickelson is not in the field this week at the Travelers Championship and is expected to make his next start in two weeks at The Greenbrier.

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Hubert Green, Hall of Famer, dies at 71

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 20, 2018, 2:06 pm

Hubert Green, a World Golf Hall of Famer who won 19 times on the PGA Tour, including the 1977 U.S. Open and 1985 PGA Championship, died Tuesday from complications following a lengthy battle with throat cancer. He was 71.

A remarkably consistent player, Green used his distinctive swing to finish in the top 25 in a third of the PGA Tour events he entered. He also played on three Ryder Cup teams (1977, 1979, and 1985) and was undefeated in singles play.

A native of Birmingham, Ala., Green graduated from Florida State University in 1968. While at FSU, he won the Cape Coral Intercollegiate tournament by eight strokes and the Miami Invitational, the nation’s largest collegiate tournament, by five strokes. He turned pro in 1969, earned his Tour card in 1970 and was named PGA Rookie of the Year in 1971.

Green's first PGA Tour win was the 1971 Houston Champions International, in which he beat Don January in a playoff. Between 1973 and 1976 he won 10 more times, including a three-week stretch in 1976 when he won at Doral, Jacksonville and Hilton Head.

Green won the 1977 U.S. Open at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla., despite being informed of a death threat against him that had been anonymously telephoned to the course. He received the news after putting out on the 14th hole of the final round. He decided to keep playing, and wound up winning  by one stroke over Lou Graham.

A seldom-remembered fact about Green: he finished third behind Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus in their 1977 "Duel in the Sun" Open Championship at Turnberry. He was 11 strokes behind winner Watson.

Green won his second major championship in 1985, taking the PGA Championship at Cherry Hills. By a margin of two strokes, he denied Lee Trevino's bid to win back-to-back PGAs. It would be Green's last win on the PGA Tour. Afterward, Trevino praised his opponent, saying “He’s a great sand player and probably the best chipper we’ve got. Every time he got into trouble, he chipped it close to the hole.”

Green joined what is now known as the PGA Tour Champions in 1997 and went on to win four times, the first win coming in 1998 in his hometown of Birmingham.

Green was also involved in golf course design, including courses such as TPC Southwind,  Reynolds Plantation in Greensboro, Ga.; and Greystone Golf & Country Club in Birmingham.

Green was diagnosed with stage-four throat cancer in 2003. Treated with chemotherapy and radiation, he continued playing golf. In 2005, he was named the Champions Tour's Comeback Player of the Year. He also received the Ben Hogan Award at the Masters that year. In 2007 he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Green is also remembered for his philanthropic efforts. Over the years he participated in hundreds of charity tournaments and community fund-raising events that supported a wide range of causes including childhood cancer, united cerebral palsy, and other illnesses.

Green is survived by his wife Becky Blair, of Birmingham; three sons, Hubert Myatt Green Jr. of Hurricane, Utah; Patrick Myatt Green; and James Thomas Green (Adrienne) of Panama City, Fla.; sisters Melinda Green Powers and Carolyn Green Satterfield and brother Maurice O. V. Green, all of Birmingham, step-sons Richard O’Brien of New Orleans and Atticus O’Brien of Dallas, Texas, and several grandchildren.

A memorial service is being planned at Highlands United Methodist Church in Birmingham, and details are pending. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to Highlands United Methodist Church Community Ministry or to a charity of your choice.

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Five-time Open champ Thomson passes at 88

By Associated PressJune 20, 2018, 1:35 am

Hailed as a hero to some and as golf royalty to others, Peter Thomson, a five-time winner of The Open and the only player in the 20th century to win the championship for three straight years, died Wednesday. He was 88.

Thomson had been suffering from Parkinson's disease for more than four years and died at his Melbourne home surrounded by family members, Golf Australia said.

The first Australian to win The Open, Thomson went on to secure the title five times between 1954 and 1965, a record equaled only by American Tom Watson.

The Australian's wins came in 1954, '55, '56, again in 1958 and lastly in 1965 against a field that included Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Only Harry Vardon, with six titles between 1896 and 1914, won more.

Thomson also tied for fourth at the 1956 U.S. Open and placed fifth in the 1957 Masters. He never played the PGA Championship.

In 1998, he captained the International side to its only win over the United States at the Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

Asked by The Associated Press in 2011 how he'd like to be remembered, Thomson replied: ''A guy who always said what he thought.''

Veteran Australian golfer Karrie Webb was among the first to tweet her condolences, saying she was ''saddened to hear of the passing of our Aussie legend and true gentleman of the game .... so honored to have been able to call Peter my friend. RIP Peter.''

Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said Thomson was ''a champion in every sense of the word, both on the course and in life.''

''Many know him as a five-time champion golfer of the year or as a three-time captain of the Presidents Cup International team.'' Finchem added. ''But he was also a great friend, father, grandfather and husband. He was golfing royalty, and our sport is a better one because of his presence.''

Former golfer and now broadcaster Ian Baker-Finch, the 1991 Open champion, called Thomson his ''hero'' - ''Peter - my friend and mentor R.I.P. Australian golf thanks you for your iconic presence and valuable guidance over the years.''

From Britain, R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers praised Thomson's plans for the game's future.

''Peter gave me a number of very interesting and valuable thoughts on the game, how it has developed and where it is going, which demonstrated his genuine interest and love of golf,'' Slumbers said. ''He was one of the most decorated and celebrated champion golfers in the history of The Open.''

Born in the Melbourne inner-city suburb of Brunswick on Aug. 23, 1929, Thomson was a promising cricketer. He scored an unbeaten 150 runs for the Carlton club against a men's side as a 15-year-old.

But golf became his passion, and he turned professional in 1947.

He won the national championships of 10 countries, including the New Zealand Open nine times and Australian Open three times. He first played on the PGA Tour in the U.S. in 1953 and 1954, finishing 44th and 25th on the money list, respectively. He won the Texas International in 1956.

Thomson won nine times on the Senior PGA tour in the U.S. in 1985, topping the money list. His last tournament victory came at the 1988 British PGA Seniors Championship, the same year he was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame.

Overall, he won 26 European Tour events, 34 times on the Australasian PGA tour and 11 on the seniors tour in the U.S, as well as once in Japan.

In later years, Thomson wrote articles for many publications and daily newspapers, was club professional at Royal Melbourne and designed more than 100 golf courses. In the 2011 Presidents Cup program, Thomson provided an insightful hole-by-hole analysis of the composite course at Royal Melbourne.

Thomson was always reluctant to compare his wins with anyone else's.

''All records are qualified in that they were made at a certain time in history,'' Thomson told golf historian and author Brendan Moloney for a story on his 80th birthday.

''The circumstances change so much, and so do the players' attitudes. In golf, only in the last 30 years or so has there been a professional attitude to playing for money. The professionals in the USA and Britain and anywhere else all had club jobs as a backstop to their income.

''When they did play and make records, you have to understand that they were taking time off from the pro shop,'' he said. ''So the records that were set were pretty remarkable.''

Thomson always had stories to tell, and told them well. With a full head of hair and a lineless face that belied his age, the Australian wasn't afraid to let everyone know his feelings on any subject.

That was true as far back as 1966. As president of the Australian PGA, Thomson was indignant that Arnold Palmer's prize for winning the Australian Open was only $1,600, out of a total purse of $6,000, one of the smallest in golf.

''Golf Stars Play for Peanuts,'' blared the headline of a story he wrote. ''Never before has such a field of top golfers played for what $6,000 is worth today. Canada offers 19 times that. I know 19 other countries who give more.''

But he was always happy on the golf course.

''I've had a very joyful life, playing a game that I loved to play for the sheer pleasure of it,'' Thomson said. ''I don't think I did a real day's work in the whole of my life.''

Thomson served as president of the Australian PGA for 32 years and worked behind the scenes for the Odyssey House drug rehabilitation organization where he was chairman for five years.

In 1979, he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service to golf, and in 2001 became an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for his contributions as a player and administrator and for community service.

Thomson is survived by his wife Mary, son Andrew and daughters Deirdre Baker, Pan Prendergast and Fiona Stanway, their spouses, 11 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

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Gaston leaves USC to become head coach at Texas A&M

By Ryan LavnerJune 19, 2018, 11:00 pm

In a major shakeup in the women’s college golf world, USC coach Andrea Gaston has accepted an offer to become the new head coach at Texas A&M.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Gaston, who informed her players of her decision Monday night, has been one of the most successful coaches over the past two decades, leading the Trojans to three NCAA titles and producing five NCAA individual champions during her 22-year reign. They have finished in the top 5 at nationals in an NCAA-record 13 consecutive seasons.

This year was arguably Gaston’s most impressive coaching job. She returned last fall after undergoing treatment for uterine cancer, but a promising season was seemingly derailed after losing two stars to the pro ranks at the halfway point. Instead, she guided a team with four freshmen and a sophomore to the third seed in stroke play and a NCAA semifinals appearance. Of the four years that match play has been used in the women’s game, USC has advanced to the semifinals three times.  

Texas A&M could use a coach with Gaston’s track record.

Last month the Aggies fired coach Trelle McCombs after 11 seasons following a third consecutive NCAA regional exit. A&M had won conference titles as recently as 2010 (Big 10) and 2015 (SEC), but this year the team finished 13th at SECs.

The head-coaching job at Southern Cal is one of the most sought-after in the country and will have no shortage of outside interest. If the Trojans look to promote internally, men’s assistant Justin Silverstein spent four years under Gaston and helped the team win the 2013 NCAA title.