Ya Gotta Be There

By John HawkinsFebruary 4, 2011, 11:11 pm

Whether you love it, loathe it or couldn’t care less about it, the TPC Scottsdale’s 16th is unique as golf holes go. Its evolution from harmless par-3 to the 'Only Place to Be' symbolizes the steady growth of the Phoenix-area PGA Tour stop over the years. Socially, Saturday at Sixteen is a big deal to locals. Visually, it is a sight to behold.

Welcome to “Ya Gotta Be There,” my inaugural collection of golf stuff to which television doesn’t do justice -- things you have to see in person to truly appreciate. In doing its best to capture the flavor of Scottsdale’s 16th this weekend, CBS will focus on the yahoo factor, paying homage to Billy Budweiser and the notion that professional golf can host a party during live action.

Optically, however, neither TV nor the printed word can adequately simulate the experience of standing on a tee surrounded by 20,000 people at full holler. It reminds me of that scene in “Tommy” when Roger Daltrey, who plays the deaf, dumb and blind kid, is playing pinball before a packed house, which is chanting and carrying on while Elton John tears into his remake of “Pinball Wizard.”

Sorry for the lame comparison. As I was saying, ya gotta be there.

Augusta National’s 18th hole. The exclamation point to one of the finest courses on earth, the game’s ultimate competitive stage is also the toughest ticket in any town, which is too bad if you’re a serious golfer without connections. The emergence of high-def TVs gives viewers a much better idea of the steep uphill climb to the 18th green, but it’s the visual from the tee that will blow you away. Since the markers were moved back 60 yards in 2002, the final drive has become one of the most daunting in the game. The gap between the converging tree lines, maybe 100 yards ahead, looks no larger than a keyhole. The big boys fly their ball over the Georgia pines, but the older fellas don’t have the clubhead speed – and sometimes have to play their second shots from the bottom of the hill.

No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale
No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale has become fully-enclosed by corporate hospitality tents and stands. (Getty)

The clubhouse at TPC Sawgrass. The Tour’s shrine to excess, perhaps deservedly so, this four-year-old structure is large enough to serve as a southern branch of the Smithsonian. Dozens of lavishly appointed rooms, opulence galore … they should hand you a map when you walk through the front door. The old clubhouse was like a closet compared with this version. Overstated? Yes, but it’s a handsome building that was marvelously conceived. Chateau le Finchem is large, but clearly, no detail in its construction was considered too small.

The human chaos around Tiger Woods. I’ve seen some crazy stuff over the years, most of it unpleasant, when Sir Eldrick makes any walk through spectators at a tournament site. Kids getting run over by grown men, the screeching and pushing, overzealous security – if you’ve ever wondered why Woods can appear so anti-social amid the adulation, feel free to come to an event and witness the pandemonium for yourself. Even lightly attended events can produce some unruly scenes. Fame can be an ugly drug, and not just to the guy who lives with it.

Any celebration by a victorious Ryder Cup team. To see Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo locked in a bear hug, both icons sobbing as the Euros clinched at Oak Hill in 1995, is a mental snapshot you never forget. They’re all joyous occasions, obviously, and the combination of thin skin and competitive anxiety tells us a couple have gone over the top, but seeing the game’s best players in emotional overdrive – and trying to read a notebook full of champagne-smeared ink – is one of the true perks of the profession. My personal fave? The Americans spraying bubbly off the balcony at Valhalla in 2008.

Ernie Els. Standing next to him and marveling at the sheer size of the man is basically worth the trip. Some guys are just bigger than they’re listed, and I don’t mean in the midsection. Cal Ripken Jr., Tom Brady and the Big Easy immediately come to mind. Els was put together on a day when the assembly line was at its very best. To see him swing a golf club so fluidly only amplifies the notion that he is an imposing physical specimen.

A Phil Mickelson autograph procession. If Woods is the Sultan of Standoffish, Philly Mick is the Mayor of Magnetism. At TPC Boston a couple of years back, I interviewed him while he signed for the masses, a session that showcased his marvelous people skills while he fired harpoons at the Tour’s FedEx Cup postseason format. Such a fascinating dichotomy: happy Phil, mad Phil. He would skip the playoff gathering in Chicago the following week to express his displeasure, but it’s not Joe Sixpack who annoys him. Tiger is more famous, but Mickelson is more popular.

The practice range at noon Sunday. Every paying customer should spend at least 15 minutes in the bleachers before the leaders tee off in the final round. Seeing 20 or 30 golf balls behave at the same time is kind of cool to watch, and who knows? If you’re not careful, you might actually learn something by watching the best players in the world.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."