Hawk's Nest: Good times for Jimmy Walker

By John HawkinsFebruary 10, 2014, 2:00 pm

Imagine if Bud Selig announced that Major League Baseball was lengthening its regular season from 162 games to 200 because Dial, the official soap of MLB, wanted more bang for its sponsorship buck. Between the purist cries of sacrilege and arguments based on common sense, Selig would need more than a deodorant bar to get rid of the stench.

In essence, that’s what the PGA Tour did by conceiving its wraparound season. Six events were attached to the front of the schedule mainly because the Tour’s Fall Series corporate partners were paying millions of dollars to host tournaments that didn’t count.

They wanted relevance – and you can hardly blame them – but it’s not like they didn’t know what they were getting when they signed on with Camp Ponte Vedra. The irony of it all? When Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson publicly campaigned for a shorter season in the mid-2000s, the Tour obliged with the FedEx Cup project: 33 weeks plus four playoff events, lest anyone think the fellas back at headquarters never listen to what the players say.

Here we are, 6 ½ years later, and if the season was any longer, they’d have to invent a new month. What’s more, the 2013-14 schedule is front-loaded with mediocre fields. Fifteen of the 42 events will be played before all the world’s best players gather to compete on the same golf course.

It got me thinking. Tennis and auto racing are also individual sports with very little dark time. How often do their superstars show up? Does the guy who runs the Cheez-it 355 at The Glen grumble because Jimmie Johnson skips his race every year?

Not a chance. NASCAR is perhaps the only game on earth that can boast of perfect attendance – every driver who finished in the top 20 last year showed up at all 36 Sprint Cup events. Johnson, meanwhile, has never missed a race since joining the circuit in 2002. It is a streak I find somewhat staggering.

Unless you’re injured, you climb through the window and get behind the wheel. Pro tennis, as you might expect, is a different story. The top guys usually play in 16 to 21 tournaments – roughly the same number as the best golfers. With all its conflicting events and different court surfaces, we’re talking about an odd duck. Everything really does revolve around the majors.

THERE HAVE BEEN several famous men named Jimmy Walker, and that doesn’t include Jimmie Walker, the dude who yelled “Dyn-O-mite!” on virtually every episode of the 1970s sitcom, “Good Times.” You’ve got the former Detroit Pistons basketball player, the late mayor of New York (1926-32) and the guy who has won three of the year’s first 13 PGA Tour events.

That doesn’t necessarily make golf’s Jimmy Walker famous, but it does make him a fan of the wraparound season. I can’t think of another player in the game’s modern era who has toiled in utter anonymity for so long – Walker went winless in his first six full big-league seasons – then rolled out of bed one morning and landed on a pile of seven-figure paychecks.

Jason Dufner sort of did the same thing, but he didn’t win three times in eight starts. Rich Beem went crazy in the summer of 2002, but that flamed out quickly. Mark Brooks leapt from the Tour’s middle class to win three times (including the PGA) in 1996, but he had four prior victories.

Another extreme rarity in Walker’s career is that he has improved his standing on the money list every year since making the Tour in 2008. Guys might do it for three or four consecutive seasons, but seven? That’s crazy. We can talk about the average fields he has beaten and wonder if he has the poise and polish to run with the big boys – he has played in just four majors, three of them PGAs, and made one cut (T-21 in 2012).

A couple of things jump out at you on Walker’s statistical profile, the biggest being that he spends more time in the rough than almost any Tour pro alive. He has never ranked better than 176th on the Tour in driving accuracy, meaning he lives two floors below the basement in that department.

If he wants to make some noise in the game’s most significant events, he’ll either need to start hitting it straighter or have his caddie show up with a lawn mower. Two weeks ago at Torrey Pines, for instance, the fellas found more rough than they’ve seen in a while – and Walker shot 74-71 to miss the cut.

I’m not yet sure how I feel about him being on my Ryder Cup team, but the soft-spoken Texan doesn’t need to do much else to make the squad. When you win three times in a stretch of 13 tournaments, they haven’t come up with a mathematical formula to keep you off the roster.

FRED FUNK AND I go way back. To the late 1980s, in fact, when Funk was a solid-but-unspectacular performer in the PGA’s Middle Atlantic Section and I was slinging deadline copy about a lot of bad sports teams while at the Washington Times.

He made the PGA Tour at age 32, a surprise in itself. Funk won the 1992 Shell Houston Open and seven other tournaments, including the 2005 Players Championship, and ranked 38th on The tour’s all-time money list at the end of last season. If he isn’t one of the game’s great overachievers, I challenge you to name three guys who got more done with a less ostentatious skill set.

At age 57, Funk is still grinding. His status as one of the top 50 career breadwinners earned him a one-time exemption, meaning he’ll take one last stab at tussling with guys who drove it 30 yards past him 20 years ago. Funk will remain a regular on the Champions Tour – he’s looking at eight to 10 events against the 300-Yard Club in addition to 22 or 23 doses of Geritol ball.

“That’s if the glue keeps my body together,” Funk told me this past weekend. “It has been a good ride, a lot of ups and downs over the years – it seemed like my body started falling apart when I turned 50. I like competing against the young guys. I didn’t want to look back and wish I’d used [his top-50 exemption].”

God bless the man. Not many 57-year-olds are looking for such a challenge, much less those with Funk’s recent physical issues. He underwent knee-replacement surgery in 2009, won the U.S. Senior Open that summer, picked up a second senior major (Jeld-Wen Tradition) in 2010, then tore a ligament in his thumb in 2011.

“I finally get healthy and my doctor tells me to go practice,” Funk says. “So I go hit balls and I tear it all over again.”

Last year was a nightmare. Funk came down with a stiff neck and tried to heal himself with a vibrating wand. Instead, he knocked out an ear crystal and spent the next eight months fighting vertigo. For the first time in his life, his back began bothering him. All that and the guy still finished 13th on the Champions Tour money list.

About $21 million ago – before he was cut from the University of Maryland golf team – Funk spent eight years of his childhood boxing at a boys club just outside Washington, D.C. Makes a lot of sense now that you think about it.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.