Hawk's Nest: Top 10 storylines of 2013

By John HawkinsOctober 21, 2013, 2:30 pm

With all due respect to November and December, the golf season is over. Ten months is two months too many – we need a World Golf Championship in China the way I need another chocolate-chip cookie. Not to sound gruff, but enough is enough.

On the main drag about a half-mile from my house, another giant financial institution is building another stadium-sized bank that looks rather snazzy, but nobody will actually come in and do business in it. A lot of people move their money on the Internet or through an ATM, so these Taj Mahals would seem to be an exercise in excess, although I’m sure some guy in a tie with a $2.7 million annual bonus would tell me otherwise.

Same thing goes for pro golf. Nothing can happen between now and the end of the year that will qualify for my Top 10 Storylines of 2013, so here it is. And if I’m wrong? No problem. I’ve got two months to redeem myself and a massive Citibank right up the street.

10. The fried-chicken fracas. It took forever, but the ill will between Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods finally ventured into full public view with a couple of messy incidents in May. Garcia blaming Woods for a bad shot he struck during the third round of The Players Championship was merely a childish reaction, almost comical in its absence of rationale.

His racially tinged comment regarding Woods two weeks later, however, was reckless and narrow-minded, rattling sensibilities in a game that can’t afford to strengthen its negative stereotypes. Neither Garcia’s intent, nor the proverbial apology, meant much here. You leave a loaded gun lying around long enough, somebody gets hurt.

9. Anchors away? More of a non-story than a headline hog, the anchored-putter ban drove countless conversations and fueled debates while not going anywhere at all. To be continued? You betcha, especially if talented young players keep winning major titles while employing a technique that will be illegal in two years.

The PGA Tour has insinuated that it will comply with the ban, but some very big questions remain open-ended. Lawsuits? Champions Tour survival? In a sense, this is a lengthy game of chicken in which everyone will hang their head out the window for a while.

8. Park Place. If Woods or any other male golfer won three consecutive majors, we’d be planning the ticker-tape parade. When Inbee Park did it in ’13, it was a case of the tree falling in the forest. Sadly, the women’s game has never fallen further from the mainstream radar, and if some have been quick to blame the Asian invasion for the LPGA’s lack of reach, perhaps the entire contingent of American players should hold a meeting. In front of a mirror.

7. Duf the Twitter Magnate. Or magnet, as golf’s social-media sensation-turned PGA champion proved to be after his inert pose in a Texas classroom launched a bizarre avalanche of attention. Personally, the whole Twitter thing turns my stomach, but my 10- and 13-year-old daughters know who Jason Dufner is, and it’s not because he hit 54 greens in regulation at Oak Hill.

Blame it on the stoner-like visage or his relative indifference to anything requiring emotion, but Dufner was as radar-friendly in ’13 as Park wasn’t. Nobody else gets famous for nearly falling asleep in front of a bunch of elementary-school kids. And if Duf wasn’t a really good player, it probably wouldn’t have lasted.

6. Antlergate. Vijay Singh’s admission of using a banned substance turned into a tangled pile of legal wires, then a lawsuit, forging an incredulous twist on a hall-of-fame career in which an unsavory past met up with a checkered present. Singh’s legacy has always formed an awkward partnership with public perception, and now, his accomplishments are framed in skepticism.

In the court of popularity, perhaps Singh had nothing to lose, but the PGA Tour did. Sometimes, the skeleton not only leaves the closet, it makes a spectacle of itself.

5. Majorless no more. Dufner was one of three top-tier players to win his first major title, but Adam Scott’s Masters victory was by far the most memorable. A sudden-death triumph over Angel Cabrera, with both guys performing so heroically down the stretch, instantly revised the style-vs.-substance quotient that had dogged Scott for years.

From handsome underachiever to first Masters champ from Australia, we’re talking about a pronounced career transformation in 2013. Scott proved consistently tough in golf’s biggest events and won again at The Barclays in late August. The sky was always the limit. There just aren’t as many dark clouds now.

4. Tiger rules. It’s easy to forget that his year began with a two-stroke penalty for an illegal drop in Abu Dhabi. Two strokes were added after the hard-luck carom off the 15th flagstick at the Masters and ensuing illegal drop, two more after his ball was deemed to have moved at the BMW. For everything said about Eldrick Almighty over the span of his brilliant career, no one had ever questioned Woods’ on-course integrity.

Now some are, perhaps as much for Tiger’s unwillingness to man up to the violations as the infractions themselves. Forever allergic to admitting guilt, Woods’ resistance was bound to leave a mark at some point. In 2013, those moments arrived as a trio. Megaphone included.

3. McIlrotten. Oh, the theories. They began arriving in bundles back in February and never let up, many of them borrowing from each other and blurring the basic difference between fact and opinion. One truth was clear: Rory McIlroy wasn’t close to as good a golfer in 2013 as he’d been the year before. Or the year before that. You take it from there. The new clubs. The girlfriend. The fame. The fortune. All of the above? Look out, below.

The Irish Lad’s failures remind us that good golf is hard – and great golf allows very little room for childish nonsense. In the broadest of terms, his inability to win a tournament in ’13 can be traced to a lack of maturity and sound guidance. Good kids still do a lot of dumb things, but it’s nothing two weeks on a deserted island with a fishing pole and a friendly dog can’t fix.

2. Total clarety. It’s not just that Phil Mickelson won the British Open. He won the British Open right after messing up another U.S. Open. He won it after finding a phone booth somewhere on Muirfield’s back nine and changing into his Superman costume. He won it with guts and guile – even if it took forever and a while.

A fifth major title and 42nd career win overall only secured Philly Mick’s standing as one of the 15 greatest golfers ever, but this was a landmark triumph, an exclamation point on a dossier defined by its abundance of punctuation. His closing 66 was the performance of the year, a doubt-killing display of greatness in the clutch. Any questions? Didn’t think so.

1. The five-year itch. Yes, he won that 2008 U.S. Open on a battered leg, but everything since has jarred his once-unflappable competitive psyche, leaving Eldrick T. Youknowwho stuck in neutral 73.7 percent into the climb to the top of Mount Nicklaus. In 2013, each of the majors produced a slightly varied set of flaws. As for the big picture, Woods’ ability to get it done on the weekend isn’t what it once was – he hasn’t broken 70 on a Saturday or Sunday since the 2011 Masters.

Fair or not, greatness comes with its own set of expectations, and as Tiger approaches his 38th birthday, those expectations come with a burden that can’t be measured or held accountable on a shot-by-shot basis. Only Woods knows if the pressure has gotten to him, and he’s not about to tell us if it is. When you win 14 majors in 11 years, you’re the ultimate gamer who can make it look so easy. When you go five-plus years without winning one, you’re just trying too damn hard.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”