Yips no stranger to legends, but Els' suffering extreme

By Joe PosnanskiApril 8, 2016, 1:00 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At the end, Ben Hogan would just stand over the golf ball, frozen, unwilling or unable to even bring the putter back. “Putting,” he said, “is just like 18 trips to the blood bank in a day to me. Don’t you think I’m embarrassed? Don’t you think it’s embarrassing to hear all those people say, ‘Why don’t he just hit the damn thing?’”

At the end, Tommy Armour so feared the short putts – he once missed 21 putts of 3 feet or less in the same tournament – that he came up with a name for his disease: The yips. “I reached the point,” he told sportswriter Grantland Rice, “where I dreaded to walk on the green, and the putter looked like a fer-de-lance (a venomous pit viper).”

At the end, Sam Snead – who old-timers will tell you had the most beautiful swing in history – was so overwhelmed by his inability to putt the ball in the hole that he began putting croquet style, straddling over the ball, reaching down with his right hand to the bottom of the club and hitting the ball forward. “Here,” Snead once said as he held a putter in the air, “is my personal strait jacket. Me puttin’ is like watching a monkey sitting on a football.”

Why do these tiny little shots, ones children love hitting even around windmills and through clowns’ mouths, bring down the greatest players of the sport? It’s one of the great mysteries of the game. The only thing that isn’t mysterious at all is how painful it is to watch great players suffer.

Thursday, we watched four-time major champion Ernie Els suffer like no great golfer ever had.

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“You have snakes and stuff going up in your brain,” Els said sadly as he tried to piece together the calamity that had just happened. “You know. It’s difficult.”

First hole Thursday, and Ernie Els felt pretty good. He was hitting the ball pretty well. His putting problems the last few years – and particularly the last six months – are well known, but he had been working with a coach on it and felt like it was going reasonably well. “I felt the same way I normally feel in a major,” he said. “I’ve played a lot of these things.”

First hole Thursday, and Els hit a wayward second shot and pitched up to 2 feet. It seemed a certain par and a solid enough start on a windy afternoon in Augusta. Els stood over the putt, brushed it, and hit it about 2 inches left of the hole. It rolled to 3 feet away. That’s putt No. 1.

“I couldn’t get the putter back,” Els would say. “I’ve made thousands of 3-footers, and I just stood there, and I couldn’t take it back.”

Els quickly walked around the hole to his ball and, without thinking, stood over the ball to knock it in for a frustrating bogey. Once again, he pulled the ball about 2 inches left of the hole. It rolled to 3 feet away. That’s putt No. 2.

“What holds you from doing your normal thing?” Els asks. “I don’t know what it is. I can go to the putting green right now and make 20 straight 3-footers.”

Els raced around the hole again and, again, didn’t stop before he putted the ball. He just wanted the darned thing to go in. He just wanted to get off the green and live with his embarrassment. You know that thing kids do at a Putt-Putt course? They will hit the ball back and forth, and then finally they will just pick up the ball and put it right next to the hole before knocking it in. Els had to be thinking about that. He hit the putt and, yes, knocked it 2 inches to the left of the hole. That’s putt No. 3.

What else in sports can compare to this? People often talk about Willie Mays falling down in the outfield. They talk about John Unitas getting sacked and beat up and barely being able to throw downfield. They talk about Kobe Bryant missing jumper after jumper. But those aren’t the same. Those are things that mere mortals like us can’t do even on our best day. Here was Ernie Els, one of the greatest golfers ever, already a World Golf Hall of Famer, and he was missing 2-foot putts badly. “We’ve all been there,” he said, but truth is even the hackers kind of shook their heads. Even they hadn’t been THERE.

For the fourth putt, Els backed off to gather himself. It was a wise move. Other people have four-putted at Augusta. This wasn’t yet a singular moment. The most famous of those four-putts was the great Seve Ballesteros who, when asked to recap it said simply: “I miss. I miss. I miss. I make.” Els looked at the short putt for a couple of seconds, then stepped to the ball, set his putter, got his balance and pushed the putt 2 inches to the right of the cup. That’s putt No. 4.

None of the four putts, you will note, even GRAZED the hole.

“There’s a short up there somewhere,” Els said of his own brain. “And you just can’t do what you normally do. It’s unexplainable. You know, a lot of people have stopped playing the game, you know, getting that feeling.”

At this point, Els was so frustrated – and the ball was so close to the hole – that he just reached out the putter with one arm and chipped at the ball. For the first time, the ball actually hit the hole, and then it spun out. That’s putt No. 5.

The last putt, the one that finally went in, was a little backhanded motion, the sort of frustrated “I give up” motion that golfers do when their brains have tilted. That’s putt No. 6. There were those on the Internet who thought that Els actually raked the last putt in, which would be an illegal stroke, but 1) I don’t think it was a rake and  2) Who would be cruel enough to call that on Els after he had to endure that six-putt hailstorm.

Anyway, at first people called it a seven-putt – as if a six-putt is not bad enough. It’s still unclear why that happened; the video clearly shows him making six putts. The rumor was that there was some phantom putt that did not make it onto video. “Someone counted it properly,” Els said glumly.

At least that.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen anything like that,” his playing competitor Jason Day said. “I feel for Ernie … I just want Ernie to get back to what he used to do.”

Yes, we all want that. Ernie Els does not deserve this fate. Nobody does, of course, but Els in particular has been a great player and a credit to the game, and he should have the long sunset that comes with such a career. But as simple as it seems to get over the yips, few do. Maybe nobody does. Someone once asked Hogan how to get over those haunting putting issues. His response: Stop playing golf.

“What do you do?” someone asked Els.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe a brain transplant. You tell me.”

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Storms halt Barbasol before Lincicome tees off

By Associated PressJuly 20, 2018, 11:29 pm

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - Brittany Lincicome will have to wait until the weekend to resume her bid to make the cut in a PGA Tour event.

Overnight storms delayed the start of the second round Friday in the Barbasol Championship, and an afternoon thunderstorm suspended competition for good. The round will resume Saturday morning with much of the field still to play.

The second stoppage at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came 20 minutes before Lincicome's scheduled tee time.

Lincicome was near the bottom of the field after opening with a 6-over 78 on Thursday. The first LPGA player since Michelle Wie in 2008 to start a PGA Tour event, she needs a huge rebound to join Babe Zaharias (1945) as the only female players to make the cut.

Troy Merritt had the clubhouse lead at 15 under, following an opening 62 with a 67.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”