Hawk's Nest: Nicklaus speaks the truth on task force

By John HawkinsOctober 20, 2014, 12:23 pm

Old guys never throw each other under the Conestoga wagon, so it should surprise no one that Jack Nicklaus recently defended Tom Watson’s rocky Ryder Cup captaincy.

This wasn’t a bouquet of roses, mind you, but a tepid endorsement of the U.S. system and the dispiriting notion that Watson and his staff “probably did a pretty good job” in piloting the Yanks to a five-point loss at Gleneagles.

If you’re an American golf fan, golly gee, you’ve gotta be feeling totally stoked about 2016.

I don’t know about that “pretty good job” stuff, but otherwise, Nicklaus couldn’t have been more perceptive in his post-rout assessment. Anybody who thought this U.S. team was going to win in Scotland was either delusional or drunk on the Kool-Aid. Watson’s mismanagement obviously didn’t help matters, but it’s not the reason the Yanks lost.

The subsequent formation of an 11-man task force, as Nicklaus noted, amounts to a dangerous case of overkill. How many chefs do we need standing over the broth? Most sports-related task forces are born out of tragedy or scandal, not because a bunch of guys in Ralph Lauren sweaters couldn’t make a putt.

Dangerous? You betcha. The pressure on the 2016 U.S. team to win at Hazeltine will be unlike anything previous Ryder Cup squads have ever faced. Factor in golf’s debut in the Summer Olympics that August, and the process of fielding the best possible roster will only become more complex.

For all the hand-wringing and idea-floating to be done between now and then, it’s worth noting that the U.S. has lost with two captain’s picks (2002-06), four captain’s picks (2010-12) and now three captain’s picks. It has continued to lose despite a reduction of the off-course social functions the players found so distracting.

It has lost with mild-mannered, player-oriented skippers (Davis Love III) and intense types (Watson, Corey Pavin). It has won without Tiger Woods when he was the No. 1 player in the world, but lost when it had the top three players in the World Ranking.

We can drive around in circles, getting nowhere all night long. The best way to prepare for 2016 is to act like 2014 never happened, but then, that’s not gonna happen, either.

AS HIS 16-FOOTER for birdie tumbled into the hole on Augusta National’s 18th green, Mark O’Meara raised his arms triumphantly. After 17 full seasons and 218 career starts, his first major title had occurred at the 1998 Masters, certainly one of the most thrilling of the modern era.

There was just one little problem. After holing the putt and accepting a congratulatory handshake from fellow competitor Fred Couples, O’Meara went to fetch his ball — and found a green cap lying on the ground maybe two feet below the hole.

The hat belonged to O’Meara’s caddie, Jerry Higginbotham, who had hurled it into the air in celebratory fashion, which wouldn’t have mattered if it hadn’t landed on Couples’ line. Freddie still had a short putt for par, making it a humorous and awkward moment, although O’Meara wasn’t exactly giggling as he retrieved the cap himself and walked away.

Having gotten to know Mark O. quite well over the years, I’m thinking last week’s World Golf Hall of Fame induction spurred a similar split reaction — overjoyed by the selection, then perturbed by comments that he’s not Hall-worthy. As good as he was, as long as he was consistently good, O’Meara always carried himself like a man who had something to prove.

So if those logoed shirts could never quite hide the chip on his shoulder, O’Meara was one of the most approachable and likeable tour pros I’ve ever known, a man utterly incapable of snobbish behavior. It’s no wonder he won the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am five times. A course full of hacks and the six-hour rounds weren’t going to bother O’Meara even a little bit.

But does he belong in the Hall? My perspective tells me that if a majorless Colin Montgomerie got in without having ever won a tour event in America, O’Meara should have made it years ago. His 16 tour victories and two majors trump Couples’ 15 and one, and besides, fellow 2015 inductee David Graham got in with eight Ws.

All that said, I reiterate my belief that the WGHOF standards have gotten too low, and this year’s alterations to the selection process aren’t likely to change that anytime soon. We’re talking about a self-serving enterprise in which those already elected to the Hall decide on who’s next, which leads to cronyism and the occasional popularity contest, which isn’t what such enshrinements are supposed to be about.

SPEAKING OF CRONIES, Ian Poulter and Sir Nick Faldo used to be pretty good buds, but now we’ve got another Ryder Cup-related squabble breaking out and IJP is hopping mad. Psssst: Old Tom Watson was nowhere near this one.

It basically started on the first day of last month’s competition at Gleneagles. Faldo was working the Golf Channel telecast with Terry Gannon and referred to Sergio Garcia as “useless” at the 2008 Ryder Cup — the last time the U.S. defeated Europe. Faldo was the captain of that losing squad, and while numerous whispers of Sir Nick’s inadequacies as skipper have surfaced in the years since, an appointment of British royalty must absolve one of anything that smells like blame.

“Half a point, bad attitude,” Faldo said of Garcia that morning. “Anyway, we move on, six years later.”

Not so fast, Nicholas.

“It makes me laugh,” Poulter writes in his upcoming autobiography, “No Limits.” Faldo is talking about someone being useless ... and the European team suffered a heavy defeat [when] he was captain. So who’s useless?”

Time to yank out the pitchfork.

“There were plenty of things a lot of the players were unhappy with at Valhalla, but none of us criticized [Faldo],” Poulter adds. “He may find that begins to change now.”

First of all, IJP is as good at selling books as he is making putts. Secondly, not even a month has passed since the “useless” comment and Poulter already has his memoirs in manuscript form? Talk about having a publisher running the no-huddle offense ... .

Thirdly, and most notably, Sir Nick has made a nice second career out of saying little on television. He talks about nerves and swing planes, but doesn't seem to know much about today's players.

In recent years, however, Faldo has been particularly critical of Garcia — one of the few players who has been good enough and around long enough to attract Sir Nick’s attention. This time, his negativity bit him on the cheek, and Poulter, regardless of whether he should have gotten involved, has the teeth of a piranha.

Shall we appoint a task force on the matter?

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Lewis hopes to win at Volvik with baby on the way

By Randall MellMay 27, 2018, 12:55 am

Stacy Lewis was listening to more than her caddie on her march up the leaderboard Saturday at the Volvik Championship.

Pregnant with her first child, she is listening to her body in a new way these days.

And she could hear a message coming through loud and clear toward the end of her round at Travis Point Country Club in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“The little one was telling me it’s dinnertime,” Lewis said.

Lewis birdied five of the last six holes to shoot 5-under-par 67 and move into position to make a Sunday run at winning her 13th LPGA title. She is two shots behind the leader, Minjee Lee, whose 68 moved her to 12 under overall.

Sunday has the makings of a free for all with 10 players within three shots of the lead.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

Lewis, 33, is four months pregnant, with her due date Nov. 3. She’s expecting to play just a few more times before putting the clubs away to get ready for the birth. She said she’s likely to make the Marathon Classic in mid-July her last start of the season before returning next year.

Of course, Lewis would relish winning with child.

“I don’t care what limitations I have or what is going on with my body, I want to give myself a chance to win,” she told LPGA.com at the Kingsmill Championship last week.

Lewis claimed an emotional victory with her last title, taking the Cambia Portland Classic late last summer after announcing earlier in the week that she would donate her entire winnings to the Hurricane Harvey relief efforts in her Houston hometown.

A victory Sunday would also come with a lot of emotion.

It’s been an interesting year for Lewis.

There’s been the joy of learning she’s ready to begin the family she has been yearning for, and the struggle to play well after bouncing back from injury.

Lewis missed three cuts in a row before making it into the weekend at the Kingsmill Championship last week. That’s one more cut than she missed cumulatively in the previous six years. In six starts this year, Lewis hasn’t finished among the top 50 yet, but she hasn’t felt right, either.

The former world No. 1 didn’t make her second start of 2018 until April, at the year’s first major, the ANA Inspiration. She withdrew from the HSBC Women’s World Championship in late February with a strained right oblique muscle and didn’t play again for a month.

Still, Lewis is finding plenty to get excited about with the baby on the way.

“I kind of had my first Mother’s Day,” Lewis told LPGA.com last week. “It puts golf into perspective. It makes those bad days not seem so bad. It helps me sleep better at night. We are just really excited.”

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Rose hasn't visited restroom at Colonial - here's why

By Nick MentaMay 27, 2018, 12:20 am

In case you're unaware, it's pretty hot in Texas.

Temperatures at Colonial Country Club have approached 100 degrees this week, leaving players to battle both the golf course and potential dehydration.

With the help of his caddie Mark Fulcher, Fort Worth Invitational leader Justin Rose has been plenty hot himself, staking himself to a four-shot lead.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"Yeah, Fulch has done a great job of just literally handing me water bottle after water bottle. It seems relentless, to be honest with you," Rose said Saturday.

So just how much are players sweating the heat at Colonial? Well, it doesn't sound like all that water is making it all the way through Rose.

"I haven't even seen the inside of a restroom yet, so you can't even drink quick enough out there," he shared.

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Up four, Rose knows a lead can slip away

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 11:21 pm

Up four shots heading into Sunday at the Fort Worth Invitational, Justin Rose has tied the largest 54-hole lead of his PGA Tour career.

On the previous two occasions he took a 54-hole Tour lead into the final round, he closed.

And yet, Rose knows just how quickly a lead can slip away. After all, it was Rose who erased a six-shot deficit earlier this season to overtake Dustin Johnson and win the WGC-HSBC Championship. 

"I think I was in the lead going into the final round in Turkey when I won, and I had a four-shot lead going into the final round in Indonesia in December and managed to put that one away," Rose said Saturday, thinking back to his two other victories late last year.

"I was five, six back maybe of DJ, so I've got experience the other way. ... So you can see how things can go both ways real quick. That's why there is no point in getting too far ahead of myself."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Up one to start the third round Saturday, Rose extended his lead to as much as five when he birdied four of his first six holes.

He leads the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green (+12.853) and strokes gained: approach-the-green (+7.931).

Rose has won five times worldwide, including at the 2016 Rio Olympics, since his last victory in the United States, at the 2015 Zurich Classic.

With a win Sunday, he'd tie Nick Faldo for the most PGA Tour wins by an Englishman post-World War II, with nine.

But he isn't celebrating just yet.

"It is a big lead, but it's not big enough to be counting the holes away. You've got to go out and play good, you've got to go out positive, you've got to continue to make birdies and keep going forward.

"So my mindset is to not really focus on the lead, it's to focus on my game tomorrow and my performance. You know, just keep executing the way I have been. That's going to be my challenge tomorrow. Going to look forward to that mindset."

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Grillo still hunting follow-up to debut win

By Nick MentaMay 26, 2018, 10:53 pm

Following a round of 1-under 69 Saturday, Emiliano Grillo will enter Sunday's final round at Colonial four shots behind leader Justin Rose.

Grillo is hunting his first win since he took the 2015 Safeway Open in his rookie debut as a PGA Tour member. 

The young Argentinian finished 11th in the FedExCup points race that season, contending in big events and finishing runner-up at the 2016 Barclays.

In the process, Grillo had to learn to pace himself and that it can be fruitless to chase after success week to week.

"That was a hot run in there," Grillo said Saturday, referring to his rookie year. "I played, in 2016, I played the majors very well. I played the big tournaments very well. I was in contention after two, three days in most of the big events.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I think, you know, I wanted to do better. I pushed for it. Some of the tournaments I ended up being 50th or 60th just because I wanted to play. I wanted to play well so badly. That played against me, so I learned from that. In that rookie year, I learned that."

Grillo was still plenty successful in his sophomore season, advancing to the BMW Championship last fall.

But now he's beginning to regain some of that form that made him such an immediate success on Tour. Grillo has recorded four top-10 finishes year - a T-9 at Mayakoba, a T-8 at Honda, a T-3 at Houston, and a T-9 at Wells Fargo - and will now look to outduel U.S. Open champs in Rose and Brooks Koepka on Sunday at Colonial.

"Well, he's top 10 in the world, so everything he does he does it pretty well," Grillo said of Rose. "You know, he does his own thing. Like I say, he's top 10 in the world. Nothing wrong with his game. ...

"He's in the lead on a Sunday. Doesn't matter where you're playing, he's got to go out and shoot under par. He's got 50 guys behind him trying to reach him, and I'm one of those. I've just got to go out and do what he did today on those first five or six holes and try to get him in the early holes."