OMeara Fishing for a Return to Form

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 9, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 AT&T Pebble Bch Pro-AmIn 1998, Mark OMeara won the Masters ' his first ever major victory in 18 years of professional golf. Three months later, he won the British Open. Because of both, he was voted as PGA Tour player of the year.
In 1998, Mark OMeara had reached the pinnacle of his golfing career. Things couldnt get any better. And, in many ways, he knew it.
I felt like I reached an area in my life where I never thought Id be, OMeara said Tuesday at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Sometimes when you do that, for whatever reason you tend to slide down.
It was a steady decline for the then 41-year-old. He dropped from seventh on the money list in 98 to 45th in 99. He then went to 112th, and then 116th, and back to 97th. In 2003, he fell all the way to 143rd in earnings. It marked the first time he had ever failed to finish inside of the all-exempt top 125. And it was awfully bad timing, considering his five-year exemption from his major victories had hit their expiration date.
OMeara used a one-time exemption as a member of the tours top 25 all-time money winners in order to receive his 2004 card. He was only able to compete in 17 events, however, due to a hand injury and again missed the 125 cut, ending 10 spots higher.
But, all-in-all, last year was a moderate success ' particularly when compared to its most recent predecessors.
OMeara won the Dubai Desert Classic on the European Tour ' an event that featured the likes of Tiger Woods and Ernie Els. He did so with the aid of a revised putting grip he dubbed 'The Saw' . That win, combined with a revival in his putting stroke, helped add a little fuel to his competitive fire ' one that was in danger of being extinguished.
Last year was a big year, because I felt like I really wanted to play again, he said. Now, can I compete at the level that I used to compete at? Maybe not. But the win in Dubai was big because there were a lot of good players entered, and I won again. That was a big confidence booster.
Ideally, OMeara would have liked to have capitalized on that early-season momentum (he won Dubai in March) and won again on the PGA Tour (which he hasn't done since '98). It didnt happen. And he was denied any opportunity of making a late surge to keep his card when he broke a small bone in his left palm in September at the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He thought that he could heal the injury with rest. That, too, didnt happen. And surgery was the only option.
This will mark Marks third event of the 2005 season. Hes playing on a Minor Medical exemption, meaning he has eight events to earn $79,396 (when added to last year's total, equal to No. 125 on the 2004 money list). If he does that, hell earn Major Medical status, which will greatly enhance his chances of getting into tournaments. If not, then hell have to pull a Blanche DeBois and rely on the kindness of (not-so) strangers.
Right now, Im feeling pretty good, said OMeara. Its not 100 percent, but its better.
Thus far, OMeara has played in two events, making one cut and collecting $9,552. But, if ever there was an opportunity to pick up some much needed cash, it comes this week at Pebble Beach, where OMeara has won five times.
I take a lot of pride when I look at the rock there on the first tee and (see) the amount of times Ive had success here, he said. Theres a lot of fond memories.
OMeara is once again ' he has been since 1997, when he turned 40 ' on the Hall of Fame ballot. Hes won 16 times on the PGA Tour, including the aforementioned majors. He has eight international victories. Hes a five-time Ryder Cup team member and a two-time participant in the Presidents Cup.
Those are overly impressive, if not Hall of Fame, numbers. The kind of numbers that when one retires, he can do so in peace, with positive reflection.
But OMeara isnt about to give up his golfing gig just yet. He thought about it a few years ago, when he considered giving television a shot. Then he came to his senses ' and it had little to do with his level of interest in the game.
Some people, in the middle of their lives, quit their jobs in order to focus on the things they really love to do. OMeara, in his own way, kept his so he could do the same.
Fishing was probably a lot of the reason I stayed with the golf. I knew I loved to fly fish, OMeara said. If I did a TV job, all of a sudden Id be working for someone else. I couldn't pick up the phone and tell (CBS Sports President) Sean McManus: 'Hey, the hatch is coming off in Provo. I cant make it to TV; I have to try and catch a few trout.'
OMeara wont be picking his tournament sites, however, based solely on the population of steelhead in the area ' at least not for the most part. He says that he has rededicated himself to his profession; and that he is ready to at least try and play like the Mark OMeara of old, not an old Mark OMeara.
That recently rediscovered passion is probably one of the reasons he feels a little burned by the PGA of America.
OMeara, of Irish descent, was among the favorites to be named as the 2006 Ryder Cup captain in Dublin. Instead, the honor went to Tom Lehman.
The PGA of America knew that I was very, very interested in the job, he said. The last two and a half years I lobbied pretty hard. I think the media knows that. I wanted the job. I didnt get it. Was I disappointed? Yeah, to be honest with you. But I congratulated Tom down in San Diego.
I think I would have done a good job, you know, I really do, he added. The only reason I wanted it was because it was in Ireland, because I have a tremendous respect for Ireland. I go to Ireland two times a year. I mean, I love the place. I think they love me. It just didnt work out.
Im not quite sure what their criteria is in how they pick their captains. If they go by record, certainly I would have thought I would have been the leading candidate.
Lehman has 11 fewer tour victories, three fewer Ryder Cup appearances, and one fewer major trophy than OMeara. But Lehman also had one less very public beef with the PGA of America.
Prior to the 1999 Ryder Cup, OMeara was one of the most notable players who questioned the PGA of Americas allocation of the tens of millions of dollars earned due to the biennial event.
At the time, players received nothing for playing in the Matches. Now, because of OMearas and others actions, each U.S. team member gets to donate $200,000 to charity.
In 97, 98, I approached the (PGA of America), I explained to them what was going to happen. I saw it all coming down the pipeline, OMeara said. And it became a nightmare and became an unfortunate situation for the players. It became an unfortunate situation for the PGA of America and the event.
Listen, everybody says its not about money, but life is about money, OMeara added. And not one player, myself included, threatened to not play in the Ryder Cup if we didnt get paid a dime. Even though it was written up as a controversy, thats not really the case. The case was, hey, we want to know whats going on, and thats not an unfair question.'
And does he think the incident affected his chances of being the next Ryder Cup captain?
Whether my reputation took a hit or not, whether that had a basis on whether they picked me or didnt pick me as a Ryder Cup captain, thats their choice,' he said. 'But I believe it was not (the case). Thats what they said, too. So well just move on.
Thats O'Meara's mindset for this season. After roughly six rough years with a draining desire, hes ready to move on.
Who knows, maybe O'Meara could find a little magic and actually make the team as a player. That, of course, is less likely than likely.
This is the more likely scenario: 'I'll probably be a steelhead fisher(man) that week somewhere on the west coast of the United States,' O'Meara said. 'It's not the end of the world.'
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    After Further Review: Spieth needs a break

    By Golf Channel DigitalJune 25, 2018, 1:11 am

    Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

    On Jordan Spieth's much-needed break ...

    Jordan Spieth is heading for a break, and that’s probably a good thing.

    Spieth just wrapped a run of six events in seven weeks that featured largely underwhelming results. A third-place finish at the Masters that stemmed from a nearly-historic final round deflects attention away from the fact that Spieth has yet to enter a final round this year less than six shots off the lead.

    A return to his home state didn’t work, nor did a fight against par at Shinnecock or a title defense outside Hartford where everything went so well a year ago. His putting woes appear to have bottomed out, as Spieth finished 21st in putting at Travelers, but now the alignment issue that plagued his putting appears to have bled into other parts of his game.

    So heading into another title defense next month at Carnoustie, Spieth plans to take some time off and re-evaluate. Given how fast things turned around last summer, that might prove to be just what he needs. - Will Gray

    On the difference between this week and last week ...

    There wasn’t a single outraged tweet, not a lone voice of descent on social media following Bubba Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, a 17-under par masterpiece that included a closing loop of 30.

    Nobody declared that golf was broken, no one proclaimed the royal and ancient game a victim of technology and the age of uber athletes. The only response was appreciation for what Watson, a bomber in the truest form, was able to accomplish.

    At 6,840 yards, TPC River Highlands was built for fun, not speed. Without wild weather or ill-advised hole locations and greens baked to extinction, this is what the best players in the game do, and yet no one seemed outraged. Weird. - Rex Hoggard

    On the emergence of another LPGA phenom ...

    Add another young star to the favorites list heading to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship at Kemper Lakes outside Chicago next week.

    Nasa Hataoka, the 19-year-old Japanese standout who needed her rookie season last year to acclimate to the LPGA, broke through for her first LPGA title Sunday at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship.

    This wasn’t a surprise to LPGA followers. Hataoka won the Japan Women’s Open when she was 17, the first amateur to win a major on the Japan LPGA Tour, and she has been trending up this year.

    Her tie for 10th at the U.S. Women’s Open three weeks ago was her fourth consecutive top-10 finish. She won going away in Arkansas, beating a deep field that included the top nine in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings. She outplayed world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn and No. 3 Lexi Thompson on Sunday. - Randall Mell

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    Bubba waiting for Furyk's text about Ryder Cup

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:39 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – After winning his third PGA Tour title in the span of five months, Bubba Watson is now waiting by his phone.

    Watson’s victory at the Travelers Championship, his third at TPC River Highlands since 2010, accompanies recent victories at both the Genesis Open and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play from earlier this year. It also moved the southpaw from No. 7 to No. 5 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically.

    After serving as an assistant captain at Hazeltine despite ranking No. 7 in the world at the time, Watson made it clear that he hopes to have removed any doubt about returning to the role of player when the biennial matches head to Paris this fall.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    “It still says in my phone that (U.S. captain) Jim (Furyk) hasn’t texted me yet. So I’d really like for him to say I’m going to pick you no matter what,” Watson said. “The motivation is I’ve never won a Ryder Cup, so making the Ryder Cup team and trying to win a Ryder Cup as a player would be another tournament victory to me. It would be a major championship to me just because I’ve never done it, been a part of it.”

    Watson turns 40 in November, and while he reiterated that his playing career might not extend too far into the future as he looks to spend more time at home with son Caleb and daughter Dakota, he’s also hoping to make an Olympic return in Tokyo in 2020 after representing the U.S. in Rio two years ago.

    “Talking about the Olympics coming up, that’s motivating me,” he said. “It was the best experience of my life to watch all the other events, and then the golf tournament got in the way. I’d love to do it again. I’d love to watch all the events and then have to play golf as well.”

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    Casey comes up short (again) to Bubba at Travelers

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:07 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – Staked to a four-shot lead entering the final round of the Travelers Championship, Paul Casey watched his opening tee shot bounce off a wooden wall and back into the middle of the fairway, then rolled in a 21-foot birdie putt off the fringe.

    At the time, it appeared to be a not-so-subtle indicator that Casey was finally going to get his hands on a trophy that has barely eluded him in the past. Instead it turned out to be the lone highlight of a miserable round that left the Englishman behind only Bubba Watson at TPC River Highlands for the second time in the last four years.

    Casey shot the low round of the tournament with a third-round 62 that distanced him from the field, but that opening birdie turned out to be his only one of the day as he stalled out and ultimately finished three shots behind Watson, to whom he lost here in a playoff in 2015.

    Casey’s score was 10 shots worse than Saturday, as a 2-over 72 beat only five people among the 73 others to play the final round.

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    “I mean, I fought as hard as I could, which I’m proud of,” Casey said. “Not many times you put me on a golf course and I only make one birdie. I don’t know. I’d be frustrated with that in last week’s event, but it is what it is.”

    Casey led by as many as five after his opening birdie, but he needed to make a 28-foot par save on No. 10 simply to maintain a one-shot edge over a hard-charging Watson. The two men were tied as Casey headed to the 16th tee, but his bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 combined with a closing birdie from Watson meant the tournament was out of reach before Casey even reached the final tee.

    Casey explained that a “bad night of sleep” led to some neck pain that affected his warm-up session but didn’t impact the actual round.

    “Just frustrating I didn’t have more,” he said. “Didn’t have a comfortable swing to go out there and do something with.”

    Casey won earlier this year at the Valspar Championship to end a PGA Tour victory drought that dated back to 2009, but after being denied a second victory in short succession when he appeared to have one hand on the trophy, he hopes to turn frustration into further success before turning the page to 2019.

    “I’m probably even more fired up than I was post-Tampa to get another victory. This is only going to be more fuel,” Casey said. “I’ve got 12 events or something the rest of the year. So ask me again in November, and if I don’t have another victory, then I will be disappointed. This is merely kind of posturing for what could be a very good climax.”

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    Bubba thrives in his comfort zone

    By Will GrayJune 25, 2018, 12:02 am

    CROMWELL, Conn. – The 1:20 p.m. pairing Sunday at TPC River Highlands spanned the spectrum on the PGA Tour. In one corner stood science. Bryson DeChambeau, whose quantitative approach to golf seemingly knows no bounds, was looking to add another victory after winning a playoff earlier this month at Jack’s Place.

    On the other side was art.

    Bubba Watson doesn’t float golf balls in Epsom salt to identify minor imperfections. He doesn’t break out a compass to find the slightest errors in the Tour-supplied pin sheet. Even when he texts caddie Ted Scott, he prefers to use voice text rather than rely on his admittedly sub-optimal spelling.

    But strolling along one of his favorite landscapes, Bubba the artist came out on top. Again.

    Watson is in the midst of a resurgent season, one that already included a third victory at one of his favorite haunts, Riviera Country Club. It featured a decisive run through the bracket at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and a return to the leaderboards at Augusta National where he fell short of a third green jacket.

    It only makes sense, then, that he’d build upon that burgeoning momentum at the Travelers Championship, where he earned his first PGA Tour victory in 2010 and Sunday joined Billy Casper as the tournament’s only three-time champ with a final-round 63 to catch and pass Paul Casey.

    This is a place where Watson can bomb drives by feel and carve short irons at will, and one where he officially put his stamp on the best season to date on Tour.

    “His hand-eye coordination is by far one of the best I’ve ever seen,” DeChambeau said. “You’ve got me who was just struggling off the tee, and he’s just swiping shots down there. It was cool to watch. I wish I could do that. I probably could do that, but I just don’t feel like I’d be as consistent as he is.”

    Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

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    Consistency wasn’t an apt descriptor a year ago, as Watson went from two-time major champ to completely off the radar. His world ranking, which began last year at No. 10 and is now back up to No. 13 after he became the first three-time winner this season, fell as far as 117th before his win at Riviera in February.

    Watson attributes much of the turnaround to a change in health. Never really one to tip the scales, he lost 25 pounds in a three-month span last year while battling an undisclosed health concern. After putting some of the weight back on, he’s now able to focus more of his time and energy on fine-tuning one of the Tour’s most distinctive approaches.

    “Anytime any of these guys kind of get comfortable with just being them, and golf is secondary in a sense, it helps them reach their potential,” said Scott. “I think the hype and the pressure can sometimes put things out of sort. And right now he’s just very comfortable with who he is as a person, and I think in his life. It helps him relax on the golf course.”

    What Watson doesn’t prefer to mention is the equipment change he made that serves as a not-so-subtle line of demarcation. The southpaw turned heads at the end of 2016 when he agreed to play a colored Volvik ball on Tour during the 2017 season, only to watch his results fall off a cliff. A return to the Titleist ball he previously used has coincided with some of the best results of his 12-year career.

    “I don’t think it has had any (role) in my success,” Watson said. “My clubs weren’t going the distance that I used to. I couldn’t shape it the way I want to. Luckily for me, I know the problem, and the problem was with health and not all these other things.”

    Regardless of the true source of his turnaround, Watson is back to doing what he does best. That includes carving up the handful of venues that most fit his unique eye, be they lined by thick kikuyu rough outside Los Angeles or dotted with menacing water hazards outside Hartford.

    The artistic touch was on full display with his final swing of the day. Facing exactly 71 yards to a pin tucked barely over the edge of a yawning bunker on No. 18, Watson laid the face open on his 63-degree wedge and hit a cut shot that spun and checked to inside 3 feet.

    “Teddy put his arm around me, like, ‘That was an amazing shot,’” Watson said. “He’s seen a lot of shots, he’s been out here for many years. So for him to realize it, and other players to text me and realize it, it was special.”

    While it seemed at the time like a shot that gave Watson a glimmer of hope in his pursuit of Casey, it ultimately turned out to be the final highlight of a three-shot victory. It’s the type of shot that few, if any, of his peers can visualize, let alone execute with such exact precision with the tournament hanging in the balance.

    It’s the type of shot that separates Watson – the quirky left-hander with the pink driver who openly talks about his struggles with on-course focus and abhors few things more than trying to hit a straight shot – from even the best in the game when things are firing on all cylinders.

    “The skills have always been there, as you know. But he’s just more relaxed now,” Scott said. “And when these guys, obviously when they enjoy it, they can play at their best and not get too stressed.”