Hawk's Nest: Rough times for Rory McIlroy

By John HawkinsJuly 1, 2013, 12:57 pm

A lot of serious golf fans don’t like a weepy champion, so when Bill Haas came down with a case of the man sobs after winning the AT&T National, the anti-criers had yet another reason to go kick the dog. This wasn’t a full-blown, Steve Strickeresque breakdown, mind you, but Haas, who recently became a father for the first time, was draped in emotion within 30 seconds after holing out on the 18th green.

Perhaps David Feherty should bring a box of Kleenex to the post-round interviews. My guess is that most female viewers enjoy seeing tears in a guy’s eyes – and that most men consider it a misdemeanor punishable by fine or trophy confiscation. Worse than jaywalking, not quite as bad as selling military secrets to a foreign government.

I am not one of those insensitive males. In fact, I am a closet-case softie who can’t watch “Miracle” or “It’s a Wonderful Life” without bawling like an unfed infant. My boy Jeff Rude likes to say that Ben Crenshaw has been known to cry at supermarket openings, and indeed, Ben’s heart spent more time on his sleeve than in his chest.

Since I’m still searching for my first PGA Tour victory, I’m not sure how I’d react, but I doubt I’d start crying until Uncle Sam took his share of the winner’s check. Supermarkets don’t get me, but a video montage of American soldiers returning from Afghanistan to surprise their wives and kids? Gotta watch that by myself.

NOBODY ON MY side of town has been more forgiving of Rory McIlroy’s lousy play this season, but after a missed cut at The Irish Open, his admission of “feeling a bit lost” and lingering equipment issues with a company paying him a reported $250 million over the next 10 years, it’s time to dial 911 and have the ambulance take us directly to the office of Dr. Perspective.

First and foremost, McIlroy is 24 years old. Fame and fortune didn’t exactly blindside him, but the reverberations of success take a kid out of his routine, altering his schedule to the point where practice time is compromised, if not deprioritized. Add the globetrotting, tennis-playing girlfriend. The kid’s own trans-Atlantic work responsibilities. The Oregon-based clubmaker feeding him all that money.

Not all of this stuff happened at the same time, but fame and fortune have a way of magnifying change. The parameters that allowed you to become the world’s best golfer no longer exist. You hire someone to handle all the external factors, to mitigate the interference. In May, however, McIlroy parted ways with his management firm for the second time in 19 months.

Those duties have been assigned to friends and family members, turning the clearance back into interference. Just last week, McIlroy said he wasn’t comfortable with the specifications of his Nike driver, which is an odd thing to hear from a tour pro six months into a mega-money relationship. He added an event (Valero Texas Open) to his playing schedule right before the Masters, but that didn’t help. Now he’ll go almost three weeks without competing before teeing it up at the British Open.

My 10-year-old can go online and find a gaggle of stories applauding McIlroy’s strong work ethic, his mission to greatness, his enormous natural ability. Alas, nothing prepares you for life in the fishbowl. You can’t climb into a simulator and experience the minute-to-minute ramifications of being a superstar. You learn it all on the fly, usually on a private jet.

We’re talking about 1.4 strokes a day here – the difference in McIlroy’s stroke average from 2012 to 2013. One 8-footer that doesn’t go in plus one drive that bounces into the rough instead of stopping on the first cut. It’s not a lot, but at golf’s highest level, 1.4 is a gap of estimable proportions, leading to a tricky game of cause and effect that invariably prompts some to blame the new clubs.

Tiger Woods has won a ton of majors with Nike equipment. Lots of tour pros have played excellent golf while gripping products from the Swoosh Dynasty. Nobody makes bad stuff anymore, and besides, if McIlroy’s swing is so pure, shouldn’t he be able to shoot a 67 with a bag full of bunker rakes?

The kid ranked 156th on driving accuracy last year and won four times. He’s 89th this year and can’t get out of his own way. In the curious case of the Irish Lad Gone Bad, the only piece of malfunctioning equipment is the three-pound tangle between his ears. It’s hard enough to win golf tournaments when it’s your only focus. When life becomes one giant distraction, you start missing cuts on your native soil and using the word “suffocation” to describe the trip home.

He’ll be back, of course, but it may get worse before it gets better.

IT WAS LATE 1999, another mild afternoon at the season-ending Tour Championship in Houston, and Tiger Woods was putting. And putting. And putting. His girlfriend at the time, a young lady named Joanna Jagoda, was sitting on a brick partition adjacent to the practice green at Champions GC, reading a book while waiting for the dude to refine his stroke to the point where they could go have dinner.

I had a quick word with Tiger before heading to my car and finding a Radio Shack – laptop issues – and it took a while. Maybe 45 minutes on Route 1960 alone, another 15 minutes in the store, so I got back to Champions at least an hour later. Jagoda was still reading. Woods was still putting, and the seeds that would turn into the greatest season in golf history were being planted on a Saturday in October at a tournament Tiger would win the next day.

Payne Stewart’s death had cast a massive pall over the event; the field played 27 holes Thursday and Saturday so it could attend the funeral service in between. Tiger had to be tired, but he’d gone almost 2 ½ years before winning his second major title at the PGA Championship that August.

 Sergio Garcia was rocketing to stardom. David Duval had held the No. 1 spot in the world ranking before Woods reclaimed it at Medinah. After a lackluster 1998, Tiger was winning tournaments again – he came to Houston off back-to-back victories at Firestone and Disney and had won five times since early June. Still, his chief rivals were right there. He could rest later.

Before he became one of the world’s biggest rock stars, the Dude in the Red Shirt was a tireless worker, a really good golfer who never stopped trying to get better. Nothing got in the way. Nobody was going to stop him, not even a hungry girlfriend. To plant those seeds of greatness, you must follow Ben Hogan’s advice and dig it out of the dirt first.

Still listening, Rory?

AS HEARTILY AS I applaud the USGA’s plan to hold the men’s and women’s U.S. Opens on back-to-back weeks at Pinehurst next June, I wonder about the practicality of scaling back a golf course taken to such obvious extremes for the big boys a few days earlier. One of the biggest differences in the two levels of play is the ability to gauge proper speed on the greens.

The women leave far more putts 5 feet short or run them 6 feet past the hole than do the men. No venue will exacerbate this factor more than Pinehurst No. 2, home of the world’s most famous domed putting surfaces. I think back to 2005, when heat and stress left the greens close to unplayable seemingly overnight.

Ever wonder why Michael Campbell won? The golf course was utterly ridiculous on Sunday – neither guy in the final pairing (Olin Browne, Retief Goosen) broke 80. Every putt became an exercise in total precaution, and when you neutralize natural ability to that extent, something funky is bound to happen.

Here’s to hoping both gatherings turn into terrific tournaments, and that my friends in Far Hills overdose on common sense on all their preparatory trips to North Carolina.

Getty Images

Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

Getty Images

Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.

Getty Images

S.Y. Kim leads Kang, A. Jutanugarn in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:24 am

SHANGHAI  -- Sei Young Kim led the LPGA Shanghai by one stroke at the halfway point after shooting a 5-under-par 67 in the second round on Friday.

Kim made six birdies, including four straight from the sixth hole, to move to a 10-under 134 total. Her only setback was a bogey on the par-4 15th.

Kim struggled in the first half of the year, but is finishing it strong. She won her seventh career title in July at the Thornberry Creek Classic, was tied for fourth at the Women's British Open, and last month was runner-up at the Evian Championship.

''I made huge big par putts on 10, 11, 12,'' Kim said on Friday. ''I'm very happy with today's play.''

Danielle Kang (68) and overnight leader Ariya Jutanugarn (69) were one shot back.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

''I like attention. I like being in the final group. I like having crowds,'' Kang said. ''It's fun. You work hard to be in the final groups and work hard to be in the hunt and be the leader and chasing the leaders. That's why we play.''

She led into the last round at the Hana Bank Championship last week and finished tied for third.

Brittany Altomare had six birdies in a bogey-free round of 66, and was tied for fourth with Bronte Law (68) and Brittany Lincicome (68).

Angel Lin eagled the par-5 17th and finished with the day's lowest score of 65, which also included six birdies and a lone bogey.

Getty Images

'Caveman golf' puts Koepka one back at CJ Cup

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:12 am

JEJU ISLAND, South Korea – Brooks Koepka, recently named the PGA Tour Player of the Year, gave himself the perfect opportunity to become the No. 1 player in the world when he shot a 7-under par 65 to move to within one shot of the lead in the CJ Cup on Friday.

At the Nine Bridges course, the three-time major champion made an eagle on his closing hole to finish on 8-under par 136 after two rounds, just one stroke behind Scott Piercy, who was bogey-free in matching Koepka's 65.

With the wind subsiding and the course playing much easier than on the opening day when the scoring average was 73.26, 44 players – more than half the field of 78 – had under-par rounds.

Overnight leader Chez Reavie added a 70 to his opening-round 68 to sit in third place at 138, three behind Piercy. Sweden's Alex Noren was the other player in with a 65, which moved him into a tie for fourth place alongside Ian Poulter (69), four out of the lead.

The best round of the day was a 64 by Brian Harman, who was tied for sixth and five behind Piercy.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

The 28-year-old Koepka will move to the top of the world rankings when they are announced on Monday if he wins the tournament.

Thomas, playing alongside Koepka, matched Koepka's eagle on the last, but that was only for a 70 and he is tied for 22nd place at 1 under.

Koepka's only bogey was on the par-5 ninth hole, where he hit a wayward tee shot. But he was otherwise pleased with the state of his ''caveman golf.''

''I feel like my game is in a good spot. I feel like the way I played today, if I can carry that momentum into Saturday and Sunday, it will be fun,'' Koepka, winner of the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, said.

''My game is pretty simple. I guess you can call it like caveman golf – you see the ball, hit the ball and go find it again. You're not going to see any emotion just because I'm so focused, but I'm enjoying it.''

Piercy, who has fallen to No. 252 in the world ranking despite winning the Zurich Classic earlier this year with Billy Horschel – there are no world ranking points for a team event – was rarely out of position in a round in which he found 13 of 14 fairways off the tee and reached 16 greens in regulation.

''Obviously, the wind was down a little bit and from a little bit different direction, so 10 miles an hour wind versus 20s is quite a big difference,'' said Piercy, who is looking for his first individual PGA Tour win since the Barbasol Championship in July 2015.

''It was a good day. Hit a couple close and then my putter showed up and made some putts of some pretty good length.''

Australia's Marc Leishman, winner last week at the CIMB Classic in Kuala Lumpur, shot a 71 and was seven behind. Paul Casey's 73 included a hole-in-one on the par-3 seventh hole and the Englishman is nine behind Piercy.