The day Ali conquered golf

By Matt AdamsJune 4, 2016, 3:30 pm

The world awoke this morning to the sad news of the passing of Muhammad Ali at the age of 74.

One of the greatest heavyweights of all time, Ali’s boxing prowess was surpassed only by his cultural impact.  He was infatuating, inspiring, controversial and polarizing.  You couldn’t take your eyes, or ears, off Ali.

“Braggin’ is when a person says something and can’t do it.  I do what I say.”

Did he ever. In 61 fights, he won 56 times, 37 by knockout.  His biggest bouts became social and pop phenomena: the defeats of the menacing Sonny Liston, the rope-a-dope of George Foreman in Zaire, the “Thrilla in Manila” with Joe Frazier.  

So consummate was his dominance that Ali is still used as a standard of judgment.  Who was the Muhammad Ali of golf?  Jack Nicklaus for his control of golf’s biggest bouts, Arnold Palmer for his ability to connect beyond the ring or Tiger Woods for his competitive and global renown?

Golf world pays tribute to Ali on social media

But Ali’s impact was felt far beyond the ring. He wasn’t afraid to take powerful punches in the public arena. At the age of 22 he converted to Islam, changing his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali.  He defied the draft during the Vietnam war, famously declaring "I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. … No Viet Cong ever called me n----r." Convicted of draft evasion, he paid a heavy price. Stripped of his passport and denied a boxing license in every state, Ali did not fight from March 1967 to October 1970, from age 25 to almost 29 while his case worked its way to the Supreme Court, where he his conviction was unanimously overturned.

We do not know how often Ali swung a golf club, but we do know the first time.  In the October 1974 issue of Golf Digest, Ali was featured in a series of pictures capturing his golf swing. Yes, his golf swing.  According to Golf Digest, after meeting Ali at the Stardust Country Club in Mission Valley, Calif., golf pro Brad Wilson asked the boxer to swing a golf club while he took pictures with his Polaroid sequence camera.

Golf pro Brad Wilson shot this Ali swing sequence in 1974. (Courtesy Golf Digest)

Wilson handed Ali an 8-iron. “How do you hold this thing?” Ali asked. Wilson helped Ali grip the club like a baseball bat. “What do I do now?” Ali asked. One of Ali’s trainers, Drew Bundini Brown, said, “Just hit the ball, Champ, just hit the ball.”

Ali hit “what Wilson said was a surprisingly straight, 140-yard shot,” and followed with another solid strike. “Look at that ball go,” he declared with glee. “Nobody can knock the ball that far, nobody but me, the great, the one and only Muhammad Ali!  Nobody can beat Muhammad Ali!  Not Arnold Palmer, not Jack Nicklaus, not nobody!”

For someone who was so strong and virile for so long, 74 seems far too young to pass. But sadly, we had become accustomed in recent years to watching Ali’s physical diminishment due to Parkinson’s disease, his body ravaged by the brutality of his path to greatness.

Ali’s daughter Rasheda tweeted, “…You are no longer suffering and now in a better place.”  The world has Muhammad Ali to thank for the places that he took us.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.