Hawks Nest: Where's the Match Play madness?

By John HawkinsFebruary 18, 2013, 2:00 pm

Midway into the first quarter of my 9-year-old daughter’s basketball game a few weeks back, I got up to use the men’s room, then waited until play had stopped at the far end of the gym before jogging across the court and returning to my seat. As soon as the quarter ended, the referee came over and scolded me for crossing the floor while play was in session.

“Don’t ever do that again,” he said with undue emphasis, which still would have bothered me if my older daughter, my wife and a good friend of ours weren’t sitting right there. Still, I let it slide, at least for a couple of minutes, until the awkward silence threatened to transform me into the little-league dad I so despise.

Bracket Challenge: Make picks for WGC-Match Play

The guy had downsized me in front of my family. In an unnecessary tone, no less, as if this were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. At moments like these, a man is forced to make a couple of crucial decisions in a short period of time. Does my reply come in the form of a five-knuckle, four-letter-word combo? Am I strong enough to not reply at all? And why does my wife always get mad at me, regardless of how these situations turn out?

I saw an open left lane on the high road and walked out, regretting only that I didn’t cross the court again while exiting the building. Some guys, you give them a whistle and they want to rule the world. You might also say that one overreaction deserves another.

ELSEWHERE IN THE department of Much Ado About Nothing, I’m thinking no big PGA Tour event has undercut the swell of pre-tournament buzz more often than the WGC-Accenture Match Play. Wednesday’s 32-match opening round might be the most interesting weekday on the schedule, but in general, things seem to get more anticlimactic as the week goes on.

After a rough start in terms of getting the game’s biggest names into the late rounds, each of the last four finals have featured marquee matchups. None of the four were all that compelling or close. We’ve seen a couple of insufferable blowouts – not once have we seen a late charge by someone to win the thing, or a stretch of spectacular golf even the most devout cynic would have to classify as memorable.

Too bad. Match play is a format with a lot of cool qualities, and the Tour does it only once a year. From a business standpoint, Accenture has been a terrific title sponsor – the only company still around since the WGC series was instituted in 1999. I like the event a lot and look forward to watching it, but when it comes to riveting, talk-about-it-around-the-water-cooler stuff, it simply hasn’t produced.

Maybe this week will be different, but I’ll admit to having very little interest in filling out a bracket. More than any other tournament, it’s total guesswork. I remember the first couple of Match Play gatherings at La Costa – people were giddily calling it pro golf’s version of the NCAA basketball tournament, aptly dubbed March Madness, but those notions were quickly dispelled.

There were way too many upsets, which isn’t a bad thing from a competitive standpoint, but commercially, the random nature of the results led to an unappealing absence of rhyme and reason. At the majors, we’re very likely to have one or two superstars in the hunt. At the Match Play, we can get Jeff Maggert and Andrew Magee.

One of these years, we’ll get an instant classic. At this point, however, the tournament is 0 for 14.

OTHER THAN FREDRIK Jacobson himself, nobody was more surprised than me to see him miss a 5-footer on Riviera’s 18th green Sunday evening – a putt that would have gotten him into the playoff with eventual winner John Merrick and Charlie Beljan. The Junkman, as we call Jacobson, is a good guy to whom I was introduced years ago by fellow Swede Jesper Parnevik.

We were standing on a practice green somewhere – it usually doesn’t matter with Jacobson. “Which side of the hole do you want him to make it on?” Parnevik asked me. I was perplexed. The Junkman was grinning. “Seriously, this guy is the best putter in the world,” Parnevik added. “Now which side of the hole do you want it to go in on?'

Jacobson was about 8 feet from the hole. “Right side,” I responded, and sure enough, Jacobson dispatched his ball to the right lip, where it gently curled into the cup.

“Pretty good. Left half,” I requested.


“Straight in the heart.”


“If the guy could hit a fairway,” Parnevik announced, “he’d be the best player in the world.”

UPON READING MY recent lament on slow play last week, a player texted me with an intriguingly valid point: why would the Tour feel compelled to make these guys play faster when the Sunday telecast routinely runs long – and into the giant audience owned by “60 Minutes,” a CBS franchise for 45 years?

I don’t know how television ratings work, but I do know there is a separate number for the final hour of an extended-length sports presentation – and that nobody extends the length quite like the PGA Tour. Intentional? Can’t see that being the case, but a deterrent to enforcing slow-play policy with the game on the line? Not only is it possible, it makes a lot of sense.

WHILE CLEANING OUT my computer last week, I was quickly sidetracked by the large collection of Tiger Woods stories I’ve written over the years. I think I wrote the lead piece for Golf World at 11 of Woods’ 14 major-championship victories. Among the three I missed was Tiger’s beat-down of history at the 2000 U.S. Open, where he won by 15 and I was about to become a father for the first time.

Anyway, it got me thinking about the smartest and dumbest Woods-related things I’ve done as a golf journalist.

Dumbest – Lots of candidates here, but one clear winner: a 2005 column I wrote proposing that Tiger’s father, Earl, should be inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame. My intentions were honest, my reasoning two levels below shallow, and the “you’re an idiot” mail I received in response from readers did a superb job of pointing that out.

Smartest – In collaboration with my longtime editor, Geoff Russell, we conceived a cover for the 1996 year-end issue of Golf World that had Tiger’s face on Mount Rushmore, along with those of Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones. Again, we got a ton of mail, almost all of it negative, but 16-plus years later, I think it’s fair to surmise that the dunce cap didn’t fit.

WHEN I GOT home from my daughter’s basketball game that Saturday in January, I was still pretty angry over some fourth-grade ref giving me the business about walking across the court. So I called the guy who runs the rec center – he could not have been more courteous or understanding when I told him what had transpired.

Privately, he was probably thinking I’m a little crazy, but then, I think the people who run the basketball league are a bit off themselves. The one thing they make super-duper clear when you walk in the door, whether it’s as a parent or a coach, is that winning and losing mean absolutely nothing.

Maybe that’s another reason this country is going to hell in a haywagon.

When I attended the clinic for first-time coaches a couple of years ago, that point was driven home, oh, seven or eight times. I’m no John Wooden, but I’ll tell you this: Most 9-year-old kids want to win as much as Michael Jordan. Don’t believe me? Have yourself a 9-year-old, then get back to me.

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."