Hawk's Nest: Ryder Cup fallout enters Week 2

By John HawkinsOctober 6, 2014, 5:10 pm

Tom Watson’s open letter read like something crafted by Roger Goodell’s mental coach (how dare we call them shrinks nowadays). You wait five full days for the dust to clear, then take complete responsibility after the fact, which flies no better than the paper airplane people make of it after the confession goes public.

Numerous credible journalists have documented the turmoil surrounding the U.S. Ryder Cup team in the aftermath of the loss at Gleneagles. Watson’s response was predictable and shallow, a tapered explanation to a situation that had already run its course, but there are numerous lingering circumstances still worthy of further examination.

• How could a man so gracious in defeat after losing the 2009 British Open in somewhat tragic fashion (at age 59) be so hard on his team five years later?

• Why would a captain lambaste his squad for its performance in foursomes, a format indigenous only to the Ryder Cup, when a majority of his own strategic blunders occurred in that same portion of the competition?

• How does perhaps the greatest wind-and-rain golfer ever turn into such an accountability-dodging curmudgeon amid a foul-weather team atmosphere?

Of course, Watson grabs some blame now. That’s what people do once they’ve come to their senses.

Almost all of the captain-bashing over the past week was done by anonymous sources, some of which I also gathered over the same period. Just because someone talks off the record hardly means they’re lying, or even exaggerating, and it became particularly clear to me that Watson was especially tough on his younger players.

“Everybody knew he could be a hard-ass coming in,” says Jim Furyk, who has played in nine Ryder Cups. “If you didn’t, or you couldn’t take it, you probably weren’t [appropriately] prepared.”

A devout Pittsburgh Steelers fan, Furyk pointed out that Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll was no picnic to play for, either, and he only won four Super Bowls. One man’s motivational genius is another man’s insensitive tyrant, and pro golf is certainly a very different animal than the kill-or-be-killed NFL.

Even at the recreational level, finger-pointing is almost unheard of when you fall behind in a fourball match or throw away a hole. Watson’s inability to cope with his team’s shortcomings amounts to a much larger and less excusable failure, a catastrophic breach of conduct by a guy who obviously knows better.

“Corey Pavin could be pretty blunt,” Furyk replied when I asked him if any of his eight previous skippers had any Watson in them. “Corey would sort of put his arm around you when he told you what he thought.”

A well-placed source told me that Jimmy Walker was among the U.S. Ryder Cuppers left baffled, perhaps even disillusioned, by the experience, and Walker played a ton of very good golf at Gleneagles. The mere notion that it could all go wrong in such a short period of time testifies to the lack of positive direction within the U.S. camp.

It doesn’t take long for a loaded wagon to lose control once it starts rolling downhill. If justice has its day, Walker and many of his teammates will continue playing well enough to participate in future Ryder Cups. And the trip home won’t be on a paper airplane.

IF A GOLF writer is going to produce some type of year-end piece, now is probably the appropriate time to do it, since the PGA Tour’s latest version of an offseason doesn’t last much longer than a flight across the Atlantic. Camp Ponte Vedra’s wraparound schedule gives a bunch of rank-and-file Tour pros a chance to make a bunch of money before the big boys show up, which is great if you’re married to Mr. Rank or Mr. File, but largely meaningless otherwise.

Almost one-third of the 2014-15 season will have been played before the next premium-field event. Sadly, the West Coast swing has never appeared weaker, but enough negative mojo. Here are five guys in the world ranking top 50 who made the biggest climbs in 2014 – what they did and how they did it.

5. Patrick Reed (73rd to 27th). No one got beat up more by serious golf fans, many of whom belittled Reed’s claim that he was one of the game’s top five players after winning at Doral in March. He would get to no higher than 20th in the ranking and go five months without a top-10 finish. At Gleneagles, however, he was America’s most productive player (3-0-1).

Some guys have excellent statistical profiles and fail to translate those numbers into results. Reed is the opposite – a player who doesn’t stand out in any category but still won twice. In fact, he hit fewer fairways at Doral than at any tournament all season, but to take the next step, he has to drive the ball better. Stars cannot live on mouth alone.

4. John Senden (108th to 50th). Known for years as one of the game’s better ball-strikers, Senden picked up his second career victory at Innisbrook after everyone else in the hunt wilted down the stretch. The perception that he is a poor putter is a myth; Senden ranked 13th on the Tour in strokes gained this past season.

The perception that he doesn’t make putts that matter, however, is very real. Senden was 125th in birdie-conversion percentage, a vital stat in this day and age. If you want to win, you need to step on the gas come Sunday, so to think the likeable Aussie will become an elite player is a reach. Nice guys don’t finish last, but they do wind up T-13 quite a bit.

3. Ryan Palmer (126th to 41st). He finished the year very well and worked his way into consideration for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick, so at this point, the biggest question is whether Palmer can sustain a high level of performance. He hasn’t won since early 2010. He tends to play his best golf at weak-field events, which is what made his late-summer run rather notable.

One thing about Palmer – the dude can really putt. He has finished in the top 25 in strokes gained in each of the last three seasons, and there aren’t many guys on the Tour who drive the ball longer. We’re talking about a player with a high ceiling; my hunch is that he’ll win again in 2015.

2. Brendon Todd (186th to 46th). No one on this list has a more obvious upside – Todd is a talented young player who hit his stride in 2014. A victory in Dallas highlighted a year that featured seven top-10s and just four missed cuts. And while many upstarts vanish for a while after claiming their first trophy, this guy continued playing well throughout the summer.

Looking for a modestly priced bargain in your 2015 fantasy league? Todd is a strong option. He drives it very straight and makes a ton of putts. He gets up and down, having ranked seventh in scrambling in 2014, and though his second-shot long game isn’t impressive, a player who doesn’t give away strokes is a player who eventually will succeed in premium-field tournaments.

1. Kevin Na (233rd to 35th). You were expecting someone else? You’re not alone. He owns one of the Tour’s shortest names and longest pre-shot routines, but just as Na has worked hard to improve his pace, he was able to grind out something of a career revival in 2014: a whopping 14 top-25 finishes in 27 starts after missing most of last season with back issues.

He remains stuck on one career victory in 272 Tour starts, and that was against a weak field in Vegas three years ago. But one of these weeks, Na’s streaky putter and penchant for playing well on tough courses is going to earn him a big-time W. Other than his relative lack of distance off the tee, he does everything well.

His standing atop this list is due primarily to an injury the year before. Twelve months from now? I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Na is hanging out in the top 20.

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Chappell returns to Valero as defending champ

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 9:48 pm

It's impossible for any of the players at this week's Valero Texas Open to forget who captured the trophy last year.

That's because most players stay at the JW Marriott hotel that's a short walk from the first tee at TPC San Antonio, and the defending champion's face is emblazoned on the hotel's room keys. This week, that honor belongs to Kevin Chappell.

"You get some sly comments from players about their room key," Chappell told reporters Wednesday. "'Oh, I'm tired of looking at you.' And I'm saying, 'Believe me, I'm tired of being in everyone's room.'"

The position of defending champ is one Chappell relishes this week as he returns to the site of his maiden PGA Tour victory. A one-shot win over Brooks Koepka led to a euphoric celebration on the 72nd green, and it helped propel Chappell to his first career spot on the Presidents Cup team in October.

Chappell has missed the cut each of the last two weeks, including the Masters, but he also recorded top-10 finishes at the CareerBuilder Challenge, AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am and Arnold Palmer Invitational. It's reason enough for Chappell to feel optimistic heading back to a course where he was a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016.

"This year's been a little bit of a strange year for me. I usually don't find form until about here, usually a slow starter," Chappell said. "But having three top-10s before this event, I've kind of found some form. I'm looking to turn those top-10s into top-5s, and the top-5s into wins. That's the challenge moving forward this year."

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Scott returns to Valero with major streak in jeopardy

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 8:34 pm

Adam Scott is back in the Lone Star State as he looks to keep alive a majors streak that has stretched across nearly two decades.

The Aussie tends to play a relatively light schedule during the spring, often times skipping every event between the Masters and The Players. But this time around he opted to return to the Valero Texas Open for the first time since 2011 in an effort to capitalize on the form he found two weeks ago at Augusta National, where he tied for 32nd.

"Hopefully kind of pick up where I left off on the weekend, which was really solid, and get a bit of momentum going because that's what I haven't had this year," Scott told reporters. "Trying to put four good rounds together and get the most out of my game for a change."

Scott has won each of the four stroke-play events held annually in Texas, completing the so-called "Texas Slam" before the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play relocated to Austin. That includes his win at TPC San Antonio back in 2010, when he closed with rounds of 66-67 for a one-shot victory.

After a seven-year hiatus, Scott is back San Antonio after a solid but underwhelming spring stretch. He cracked the top 20 at both the Honda Classic and Valspar Championship, but his worldwide top-10 drought stretches back nearly a year to the FedEx St. Jude Classic in June. As a result, the former world No. 1 has dropped to No. 59 in the latest rankings.

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"I'm trying to be really in tune with where my game's at and identify why I'm just not having better results," Scott said. "To kind of change that, I've got to change something, otherwise I'm just going to do the same thing."

That ranking will become even more important in the coming weeks as Scott looks to keep his streak of consecutive majors intact. He has played in 67 straight dating back to The Open in 2001, second only to Sergio Garcia's 75 among active players. But Scott's five-year exemption for winning the 2013 Masters has run its course, meaning he is not yet exempt for the upcoming U.S. Open.

Barring a win next month at TPC Sawgrass, Scott's only way to avoid a trip to sectional qualifying will be to maintain a position inside the top 60 in the world rankings on either May 21 or June 11.

The key for Scott remains easy to identify but hard to fix. While he ranks fifth on Tour this season in strokes gained: tee-to-green, he's 194th in strokes gained: putting. Scott won in consecutive weeks in 2016 with a short putter, but otherwise has largely struggled on the greens since the anchoring ban took effect more than two years ago.

"Hopefully a quick turnaround here and things start going in the right direction, because I think I can have a really great back end of the season," Scott said. "My ball-striking is where I want it; I like where my short game's at. I just need to get a bit of momentum going on the greens. It's easy to do that on the putting green at home, but that doesn't always translate out here. I think I've just got to make it happen out here."

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After personal struggles, Compton still standing

By Rex HoggardApril 18, 2018, 4:08 pm

The first line of Erik Compton’s PGA Tour biography provides all the context you need to understand the 38-year-old’s plight: “Because of viral cardiomyopathy, had first heart transplant on Feb. 26, 1992 and took up the game of golf as part of his rehabilitation.”

The second heart transplant came in 2008. Those brushes with mortality can produce some next-level introspection, but as Compton closed his eyes and contemplated his most recent situation, his mind drifted to places that most professional athletes spend a lifetime trying to avoid.

Following his opening round late last month at the Web.com Tour’s Savannah Golf Championship, Compton considered retirement. He openly unpacked the emotions of going through a divorce. He conceded that the trappings of life on the PGA Tour can be consuming and, at least for him, uncomfortable.

Throughout his eventful career Compton has donned many hats. He’s been a hero to many who see his perseverance through so many medical setbacks as an example of what can be accomplished when you stop listening to people who are quick to tell you something can’t be done.

He’s been a contender, finishing second at the 2014 U.S. Open and spending five full seasons competing against the game’s best at the highest level.

But on this spring day in Savannah, he embraces the role of sage.

“The competition,” Compton answers, when asked what he misses the most about the PGA Tour. “The lifestyle is grueling, but it was eating at me before. When I was married, there was a lot of pressure. It’s easy to get caught up and spend a lot of money. You live a different lifestyle when you have some success. I made a lot of money for a couple of years, and I didn’t really feel comfortable with it, to be honest. You know one day it’s not going to be here. Guys don’t understand how quickly it can be taken away.”

Compton understands, maybe better than anyone in the game.

He understands that one moment you’re standing on the 18th green at Pinehurst, being cheered by thousands of fans for what was by any measure a magical performance at the ’14 U.S. Open; and the next moment, you’re back in a hospital bed, attached to another IV contemplating an unknown future.

Compton lost his Tour card in 2016 and spent last season on the Web.com Tour trying to play his way back to the big leagues with even worse results.

His divorce, which was emotionally complicated by his daughter, Petra, made competing difficult.

“It’s a tough thing to go through, with kids there’s a lot emotions that go into that. It’s hard to play golf and make a living. You get off the golf course and you’re dealing with attorneys and trying to figure out how to do that while you’re playing golf. It’s not easy,” he said. “A lot of guys have had to go through that. It doesn’t matter how much money you have. It’s a tough thing to go through. We had some differences, and that’s what needed to happen.”

Beyond his divorce, there were more health issues. The two-time heart transplant recipient was sidelined last year by arthritis in his feet, the byproduct of gout. Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. It never is with Compton.

Compton’s foot issues were initially misdiagnosed, and he was advised to ice his right foot after every round, but that only crystalized the gout and forced him to undergo a procedure on his right toe to alleviate the pain.

His condition was further complicated when he contracted cellulitis, a bacterial infection of the skin that was caused by athlete’s foot. That led to two days in a South Florida hospital last month that forced him to miss the Mexico Open, which he won in 2011, helping him earn his Tour card.

Compton has spent more time in hospitals than some people spend commuting to work, which would prompt the inevitably question – why me?

“No,” he laughs. “I’m excited now. This is the best I’ve felt in a year and a half. I have a doctor who can look out for me when I have these issues. I thought with the arthritis I’d have to take a medical [exemption]. These are the things that go through my head at night.”

If Compton’s glass seems a bit half full considering his plight, both professionally and personally, he’s arrived at his optimistic crossroads honestly. Whereas most athletes depend on compartmentalization and a reluctance for linear thinking, Compton has chosen retrospection.

“We all have a tendency to live in our minds beyond where we are, and that’s Tour life,” he said. “You think you’re a better player than you might be. You think you have more money than you might have.”

But for Compton those memories that others work to bury deep have provided a focal point in his journey back to the Tour. Every day, for example, he revisits that final round at Pinehurst, when he proved to himself and the world that he had the game to compete in a major championship.

He remembers the thrill of competing at the highest level and how energizing golf can be when your mind and body cooperate.

“I’ve moved on, and I’m trying to get my life in order and simplify and rebuild the work that I put in for so many years. The players are so good, but I still think that if I can get off of the [Web.com Tour] and onto the PGA Tour, I still have the game to play,” he said. “You don’t realize how great you have it until it’s gone.”

There doesn’t seem to be much that Compton doesn’t perceive these days, and it appears that the last line of that biography hasn’t been written yet.

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Power Rankings: 2018 Valero Texas Open

By Will GrayApril 18, 2018, 2:43 pm

The PGA Tour heads back to Texas this week for the Valero Texas Open. A field of 156 players will tackle the AT&T Oaks Course at TPC San Antonio, where the winner receives a pair of cowboy boots in addition to the trophy.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Kevin Chappell won this event last year by one shot over Brooks Koepka. Here are 10 names to watch in San Antonio:

1. Charley Hoffman: This event may soon be christened the Hoffman Invitational given the veteran's dominance in hill country. Hoffman has finished T-13 or better 10 times since 2006, including a runner-up in 2011 and a victory two years ago. He has four top-25s in his last six starts entering the week, including a T-12 finish at the Masters.

2. Matt Kuchar: Kuchar remains his reliable self, with a T-23 finish at Harbour Town his fourth top-30 finish in as many weeks. In a field devoid of starpower and on a course where a controlled ball flight will be key, Kuchar's name rises to the top and that position is reinforced by his four straight top-25s here from 2012-15.

3. Luke List: List nearly broke through at the Honda Classic earlier this spring, but he hasn't let up since that playoff loss to Justin Thomas. List tied for third last week in South Carolina, and he has finished T-26 or better in each of his eight stroke-play starts dating back to the Farmers Insurance Open.

4. Sergio Garcia: Garcia had a hand in re-designing this week's venue along with Greg Norman, but he hasn't played here since 2010. Still, he's the only player ranked inside the top 20 and outside of a disaster on the 15th hole at Augusta National has been playing some solid golf this year, with three top-10s preceding his Masters missed cut.

5. Brendan Steele: Steele earned his first career victory at this event during his rookie season back in 2011, and he tends to play some of his best golf in San Antonio with three top-15 finishes since. Steele has played sparingly since a T-3 finish in Phoenix, but he notched a pair of top-20s in two WGC events before missing the cut in Augusta.

6. Billy Horschel: Horschel has been feast-or-famine in this event, with three top-4 finishes sandwiched around a pair of missed cuts over the last five years. The former FedExCup champ has been quiet this season, but he broke through last week with a T-5 finish at Harbour Town which showed that some more good play could be in store for a player known to ride a hot streak or two.

7. Ryan Moore: Moore has quietly bounced back from a disappointing 2017 season, with three straight top-30 finishes highlighted by a T-5 finish last month at Bay Hill. Moore has played sparingly in San Antonio, but over his last two trips (a T-8 finish in 2012 and a T-18 finish last year) he has only one round over par on a difficult track.

8. Adam Scott: Scott has won every stroke-play event contested in Texas, including a win at TPC San Antonio in 2010. While he has played only once since, he returns this week as he looks to get his game back to its former heights. The results haven't all been bad, though, as Scott notched a pair of top-20s in Florida and now heads to a course that should accentuate his tee-to-green advantages.

9. Kevin Chappell: The defending champ hasn't been heard from much in recent weeks, but he's still a name worth mentioning at this event. Chappell earned his maiden win in dramatic fashion last year, and he was also a runner-up in 2011 and finished T-4 in 2016. He has missed the cut each of the last two weeks but did crack the top 10 in Palm Springs, Pebble Beach and Orlando.

10. Jimmy Walker: A resident of nearby Boerne, Walker will have plenty of fan support this week at an event where he outlasted Jordan Spieth for the title back in 2015. That remains the highlight of a four-year run that included three top-20 finishes, as Walker tied for 13th last year and returns on the heels of a T-20 finish at the Masters.