Hawk's Nest: Ultimate PGA Championship upsets

By John HawkinsAugust 5, 2013, 1:24 pm

Before Internet and television responsibilities invaded my previous life as a golf writer, much of our research was conducted at courses within a few miles of the actual tournament site. Two of my six aces were holed while on assignment at a major championship. One of the best rounds I’ve ever played was at Royal Birkdale the day after Mark O’Meara won the 1998 British Open.

It’s funny how I wasn’t quite able to finish my story that Monday morning without considerable help from longtime colleague Tim Rosaforte, but a couple hours of sleep later, I had the energy to fire a 74 in the northern England breeze. Now before you go thinking I was just another over-entitled journalist taking advantage of the situation, you’re right, but I had company.

That FedEx commercial where Mr. Chambers is seen checking into the hotel without his clubs, causing his co-workers to flip out and start heaving their bags all over the lobby? Yeah, right. My editor was a better player than any of us. And my big boss once spent an entire week playing the murderers row of British links courses with a single golf ball.

For all the good fortune my occupation has given me, however, I still haven’t won a spot in the media lottery to play Augusta National the morning after the Masters. I’d ask you to share in my pain, but I’m sure most of you would rather double it.

IF OLD HABITS die hard, silly perceptions don’t exactly disappear overnight. One of golf’s silliest is the notion that the PGA Championship isn’t as important as the three other majors. Each of the four offers a different dynamic, and if the PGA bears the strongest resemblance to a standard PGA Tour event, that is hardly a crime.

The reason smart-aleck writers and reasonable purists dismiss all fifth-major claims is simply a method of upholding the sanctity of the four that do exist. And please, spare me the tired contention that letting 20 club pros into the field weakens the tournament. The Masters has its old-timers, the U.S. Open its hometown qualifiers.

Besides, go back 30 years and break down the competitive element at each major; it becomes pretty evident the PGA has done more than hold its own. Measuring excitement levels is the ultimate subjective exercise, but the PGA has clearly produced more stunning winners – and those Cinderella stories on steroids often were surprise victories, not someone else’s loss.

On my live chat here last Friday, I asked the audience to vote on the five biggest PGA upsets over those 30 years. The results…

• Y.E. Yang over Tiger Woods (2009): 48 percent.

• John Daly from nowhere (1991): 35 percent.

• Shaun Micheel at Oak Hill (2003): 10 percent.

• Bob Tway over Greg Norman (1986): five percent.

• Rich Beem at Hazeltine (2002): three percent.

I’d rank them in a very similar order, with one notable exception.

1. Daly: One of the most astonishing triumphs of the modern era, if you ask me. Not just the fact that he was a ninth alternate and drove all night from Memphis to central Indiana to make his tee time, but that he was on the leaderboard for the entire tournament, had sole possession by one stroke after 36 holes and never wobbled as the tale grew to mythical proportions.

A couple of chatters suggested Daly’s victory was less shocking because he won the British Open four years later, but that was merely a validation of his talent. The guy basically became a superstar in 72 hours, and in 1991, the game really needed someone to come along and turn logic upside-down. Greg Norman was stuck in the worst stretch of his career. The top European players weren’t spending a lot of time in the U.S., and Fred Couples still hadn’t evolved into the matinee idol we know now.

2. Yang: Sooner or later, Woods was going to lose a major after holding the 54-hole lead. He had destroyed the laws of probability by going on to win 14 consecutive times, but it was the way Yang carried himself in the final pairing, proceeding with such purpose while ignoring Woods to an almost arrogant extreme, that obliterated the Red Shirt Intimidation Factor once and for all.

Four years after the earthquake at Hazeltine, the competitive landscape continues to tremble as Woods keeps searching for his 15th major. Yang had won the Honda Classic earlier that season, however, and finished solo fifth at the Buick Open two weeks before the PGA. He wasn’t some invisible man, as was the case with Daly.

3. Micheel: Stunning, for sure, but also a rare case when the game’s best players all had off weeks at the same major. Ernie Els was the only top-tier guy with a chance heading into Sunday. Jim Furyk finished T-18, Phil Mickelson T-23, Vijay Singh T-34, Woods T-39. Micheel performed exceptionally well down the stretch, but among the seven or eight guys chasing him that afternoon, the best score was one under par.

4. Tway: If Larry Mize hadn’t done the same thing to Norman at the Masters eight months later, this one might register. As if to prove that history leaves clues, the Shark threw this one away.

5. Beem: He’d won the International the previous week, but whenever Woods comes charging, as he did that day in ’02, it really doesn’t matter what you did seven days ago. Justin Leonard led by three on the first tee and was out of the picture by the turn. That didn’t hurt Beem’s cause, either.

JUST WONDERING. In the latest PGA Tour commercial paying homage to our golfing superheroes, Mickelson reveals that he dreamed of playing golf even before he was old enough to walk. I’m no child psychologist, but is that even vaguely possible? Most kids give up crawling somewhere around their first birthday. I can’t remember a darn thing from under age 4, and those memories are just snapshots that got stuck in my brain and wouldn’t leave.

LOTS OF PEOPLE want to know who’s going to win the PGA. I’ve confessed to having no idea, but I do have a list of guys who need to get their act together if they want to salvage 2013.

• Bo Van Pelt. Currently 82nd in the FedEx Cup derby after placing 23rd last year, when he had 10 top-10 finishes and a whopping 16 top-25s. This year has been a huge bust for a guy many consider to have top-tier potential. A T-6 in Charlotte is Bo’s only top-10, meaning he has has one more high finish than Scott Van Pelt.

• John Huh. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year has left the building, which is easier to do when you fall from 65th to 147th in putting. From 25th to 90th in FedEx points, we’re talking about a kid who spends more time in the fairway than John Deere but is pretty awful with his short irons. I’d advise him to start driving it sideways, but you’d say, “huh?”

• Padraig Harrington. Perhaps the end is near, although that won’t stop Harrington from waking up in the middle of the night to re-examine his spine angle at the top of the backswing. The eyeglasses haven’t helped; Paddy’s numbers are dreadful from top to bottom, which has him loitering on the FedEx Cup bubble (123rd). Harrington does rank second on the Tour in putting from outside 25 feet. From the look of things, he’s been standing over a lot of those.

• Ben Curtis. From 29th in the standings to 152nd – somebody get this man a parachute. Always a steady player who did his best work on difficult courses, Curtis has turned every venue into a monster in 2013. It’s hard to make money in this league when you’re 182nd in total driving.

• Ryo Ishikawa. OK, I totally don’t get it. Understandably heralded as the greatest thing to come out of Japan since the Toyota, the Bashful Prince has played in 21 events and has one top-25. A putting stroke envied by none other than Tom Watson at the Masters a couple of years ago has gone psycho. Ishikawa ranks 183rd in that department. I didn’t even know they kept track of guys that high.

There have been whispers of some personal issues over the last 18 months, but the golf ball doesn’t have to know your life is asunder. At 158th in FedExville, Ryo is at least three cans of spinach from even sniffing the playoffs. Whoever stole this prince’s ridiculously bright future, please return it immediately.

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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).