Hawk's Nest: Wie long removed from '04 Sony

By John HawkinsJanuary 13, 2014, 3:30 pm

A business trip to Hawaii is a little like vacationing at the DMV, although it’s far more likely you’d rather crunch numbers in the Aloha State than pitch a tent in the driver’s license renewal line. Of all the trips I made halfway across the Pacific Ocean over the years, none left a greater impression than the journey in 2004.

Michelle Wie’s performance in her first PGA Tour event remains the peak moment in a career that has never come close to reaching its expected altitude. To shoot 72-68 and miss the cut by a single stroke at the ’04 Sony Open was universally classified as a colossal success, but a decade later, one can see how it stunted Wie’s growth as a player and led to her becoming the landmark underachiever she is today.

Two victories in 154 starts on the LPGA? Even the snarkiest cynic couldn’t have envisioned such a paltry win total 10 years ago. In five seasons as a full-time LPGA member, Wie’s best finish on the money list was ninth in 2010—her last W came at the Canadian Women’s Open that August. She was 64th on the money list in 2012, 41st with just four top-10s in 26 starts in ’13. (Click here for video of Wie discussing her life on and off the course)

As much as I suspected that it might all go wrong, I could never have imagined that Wie would begin 2014 ranked 61st in the world, having gone 7 ½ years without a top-five finish at a major. Rarely has yesterday’s news sustained such relevance. It’s almost as if the golf gods got fed up with the hyperbolization and glorification of a 14-year-old girl and decided as a committee to do something about it.

Too much + Too soon = Epic swoon. Before we explore why, let’s look at a couple of guys who haven’t been such pronounced busts.

WHEN’S THE LAST time two of America’s best young players took on new swing coaches at the start of a season? Keegan Bradley’s decision to leave Jim McLean, with whom he’d worked since 2009, might have come about, in part, from his friendship with Michael Jordan, who had a pretty good NBA career, at least as a player.

Jordan and Bradley play a lot of golf together – His Airness is said to have encouraged Bradley to work on his mental toughness. But it was the influence of Jason Dufner, another Bradley companion, that led Keegs to longtime instructor Chuck Cook.

Bradley will kick off his 2014 this week at the Humana Challenge, as will Rickie Fowler, who recently enlisted the services of Butch Harmon in an effort to take his game to the next level. Both high-profile players went winless on the PGA Tour in 2013. Fowler ended up 40th on the ’13 money list, 29 spots behind Bradley, who did finish second at the Byron Nelson Championship and T-2 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“I’ve been around the game a long time – these things happen,” McLean told me last Saturday. “Keegan finished first in the overall ranking in 2012 and fourth last year, [but] he didn’t win. When he got down here [Miami] in ’09 he only had one side-view mirror on his car, and that was held on by duct tape, so it’s been a great ride.”

McLean was referring to their four-plus years together, not the banged-up automobile. There are a couple of things a veteran golf writer generally avoids analyzing, and a swing-coach change is one of them. The world’s best golfers are constantly striving to get better, and they obviously know what’s best for them from a mechanical standpoint.

That said, there isn’t much anyone can do to improve Bradley’s ball-striking. In 2013, he was the only player to rank among the top 15 in driving distance and top 125 in driving accuracy – Keegs placed 11th and 61st, an exceptionally rare and productive combo. He ranked third in par-5 scoring, 14th in proximity to the hole from 50 to 125 yards. If you’re looking for weaknesses in the guy’s statistical profile, good luck.

His putting numbers weren’t spectacular, but at 49th overall, Bradley certainly holed more putts than a majority of his fellow competitors. If Jordan thinks his boy needs to get tougher between the ears, OK, but I think of Bradley as a very talented young player who has capitalized nicely on his opportunities.

In all three of his victories, someone left the door open, and the big Vermonter ran through it like a blitzing linebacker. I would just be careful, taking advice from someone who used the first pick in an NBA draft on Kwame Brown.

FOWLER, MEANWHILE, HAD been without a swing coach since the death of Barry McDonnell in 2011. More than three years have passed since U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Corey Pavin successfully gambled on Li’l Rickie as a captain’s pick in 2010; Fowler’s heroic rally from 4 down with four holes to play earned a crucial half-point that kept the Yanks in it until the end.

He remains stuck on one victory, however; that coming in a playoff over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points at Quail Hollow in 2012. It was not the turn-the-corner triumph many thought it would be, and in each of his four full seasons as a pro, Fowler has tended to start the year in better form than he finishes it. To me, that suggests a lack of go-to mechanics – a set of swing principles any player can revert to when things aren’t going well.

I am of the opinion that Harmon is the most effective swing coach on the planet, one of the best ever. His ability to see even the slightest flaw and get it fixed – without compromising the rest of the motion – is uncanny. Butch fixed Greg Norman way back when, and then turned the raw greatness of Tiger Woods into sheer dominance. He tweaked Fred Couples, tightened Phil Mickelson and molded Adam Scott.

The man can do everything from change the oil to rebuild the engine. I remember attending a function held by Cobra maybe 15 years ago, part of which involved a bunch of chopper journalists having their swings dissected by Harmon. One corrupt move after another, Butch dispensed precise advice that worked far more often than it did not.

Alas, the session ended before he got to my swing, which would explain a lot of things.

“We just spent two days together and we’re both really happy with the progress,” Harmon told me last week regarding his work with Fowler. “We’re looking to see improvement each week under the gun and [the Humana] is the first big test.”

As a fan of the game and longtime practice-range loiterer, I’m very bullish on Fowler’s future, both as a successful competitor and commercial commodity. I’ve had a couple of dealings with the kid and really liked him. He got off to a very fast start in his rookie season (2010), which definitely heightened expectations, and when he performed well at the Ryder Cup that fall, the standard of success shot through whatever roof was left on the building.

Since winning in Charlotte 20 months ago, Fowler’s final-round visibility has been defined largely by a pair meltdowns while trying to chase down Tiger Woods – at the 2012 Memorial and 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational. In terms of career trajectory, he’s in a different place than Bradley, who has won a major (’11 PGA) and a WGC while contending on a regular basis.

Both guys have made potential career-altering decisions in an attempt to improve, and for now, that’s nothing but a positive thing. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So, too, is the walk to the World Golf Hall of Fame. However long that walk may be.

WIE AND I played holes together in January 2003. She beat me by a shot or two, and to this day, I’m still thinking the result might have been different if Butch had given me that pointer at Cobra headquarters several years earlier.

What struck me that day just outside Honolulu was how clingy her parents seemed to be. Not protective, not even omnipresent, but clingy. Like B.J. and Bo Wie didn’t have anything else to do but lurk silently in the immediate background while their just-turned teenager, an only child, began cutting her teeth on the triple-decker sandwich known as fame.

That never really changed – at least it didn’t until it was too late. Michelle constantly sassed her dad, and as the father of 13- and 10-year-old daughters now, I cannot tell you how quickly the interview would have ended if my older kid tried to show me up even once in front of a writer for a national golf magazine.

You look at Tiger when he was that age. He never threw his old man under the bus, never disrespected him publicly and probably didn’t do it more than once or twice privately. Eldrick and Earl Woods were best friends. For the most part, man and boy were equal partners in the pursuit of mega-greatness, each needing the other, as the phenom was quick to recognize the value of his father’s hands-on parenting.

Instead of stepping back, B.J. Wie insisted on serving as his daughter’s caddie in her formative years. This exacerbated the contentiousness of a relationship that didn’t need any additional friction, real or perceived. Players and caddies disagree all the time. Fathers and daughters, however, can’t leave all those disagreements on the golf course. At some point, the resentment follows you home.

For Michelle, golf was always a business, never really a game, but primarily a means to a very lucrative end. She played against men ostensibly to avoid comparisons to other women. She attended Stanford to gain her freedom as much as a five-star education. And because she had such a gorgeous golf swing, she thought she was better than she was. She chose style over substance in a game where substance crushes style every time.

When she graduated from college and it came time to do nothing but play golf, she just couldn’t perform. Michelle had her money. She had her fame. She had nothing left to play for but the love of the game and the exhilaration that comes from competition, but if the game became a chore long ago and you’d rather shop for sandals than compete, you end up with two victories in 154 starts.

You begin the year 61st in the Rolex Rankings, no matter how little sense it makes.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

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McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.