Practice Finally Paying Off for Price

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 23, 2005, 5:00 pm
2005 WGC Accenture Match PlayCARLSBAD, Calif. -- Nick Price is straight Old School. You can tell it when he reminisces about going head-to-head with Seve Ballesteros in the Lytham Open. You can tell it when he refers to the WGC-NEC Invitational by its old moniker, the 'World Series.' You can tell it by the way his gives well-thought-out answers, instead of standard two-sentence sound bytes.
 
And you can tell it most of all just by looking at his feet.
 
Nick Price still wears white shoes. Straight white. Nothing sporty, nothing designer ' with only black soles to provide a contrast.
 
In a time when players make the fairway their own personal runway, Price sticks out in his simplicity ' by being a solid among fancy and sometimes garish patterns.
 
The grounds at La Costa Resort and Spa arent conducive at the moment to keeping Prices mode of biped transportation in pristine condition. Its awfully wet and muddy, which is why officials decided to give the playing grounds and extra day to dry out before starting the first round of the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship.
 
When play finally commences Thursday, Price will meet another man who occasionally sports the Billy Johnsons, when he faces Tiger Woods.
 
The match-up will feature a pair of former world No. 1s ' players who have combined for 91 PGA Tour and international victories, and 11 major championship trophies.
 
Price, of course, is much further down the road in his professional career than Woods. Hes 48 now and is a good decade removed from when he challenged Fred Couples, Nick Faldo and Greg Norman for elite status.
 
Hes also ranked 64th in the world, which, thanks to the absence of Ernie Els, means he now has to take on the two-time defending champion. If he hadnt drawn Woods, however, it would have been reigning world No. 1 Vijay Singh. And had anyone else pulled out, it would have been Phil Mickelson or even Retief Goosen.
 
If you look at my predicament, he said, its jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire, so it doesnt really matter.
 
So, he might as well go up against one of the best one-on-one players in golf history ' a man who has a 21-3 career record in this event to go along with three consecutive U.S. Junior Amateur and three straight U.S. Amateur titles.
 
Im pretty excited about it, actually, he said. I dont have an awful lot to lose. I feel that if I play solidly and dont make any mistakes and make four or five birdies, I think well have a good match ' 18-hole match play is very unpredictable.
 
Just ask Woods. Though he has won this event each of the last two years, he was bounced from the opening round by Peter OMalley in 2002 and narrowly escaped a similar fate last year to John Rollins.
 
And he anticipates another difficult opener this time around. After all, O'Malley and Rollins aren't quite as credentialed as Price.
 
'I'm playing a three time major championship winner. It's going to be a good fight, and it's going to be a lot of fun,' said Woods, who first played alongside Price in the first round of the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock.
 
Logic would have it that one would rather meet Woods in the first round than in the later stages, before Woods can pocket momentum and start his steamroll. Price doesnt see it that way.
 
Tiger is Tiger. I dont care whether you play him in the first or last round; youve got your work cut out for you, Price said. For me, I would like to have two or three rounds under my belt and have a little more confidence.
 
Confidence is something Price was near empty on the last few years. He was putting the best in his life ' thanks to some technical assistance from Scotty Cameron, but his ball-striking ' the talent on which he made his name and his bank ' was frustratingly suspect.
 
The past few years, its been very frustrating, he said. I kept telling my caddie and my wife, if I putted like this when I was hitting the ball so well, I probably would have won 50, 60 tournaments.
 
Point blank: practice was not making perfect. If anything, practice was making the even-tempered Price ' a man who should wear a white hat to go along with his white shoes ' irritable and almost apathetic on the inside.
 
My game started going south a little bit in 2003. I started saying thats what is supposed to happen when you get to 46 or 47 ' your game is supposed to slide, its not supposed by be as sharp, he said. But I felt watching Jay Haas last year and the year before, that I could get it in myself to go to the practice tee more often and I could elevate my game. But, of course, when I did that, it didnt happen.'
 
My iron game wasnt quite as crisp. My driving wasnt quite as accurate. And what made it more frustrating was the more practice I did ' that didnt help, he added. It just sort of kept it at a certain level, instead of sort of getting better. It just seems that recently now when Ive been practicing, Ive seen a spike in the way Im playing.
 
Now my long game seems to be coming home, and if I continue to putt like I have done, hopefully this will be a year to look forward to.
 
With confidence having recharged his batteries, Price expects to compete more on tour than the 15 times he did a year ago. And he fully expects to be more competitive, as well.
 
I am looking forward to playing, honestly, I really am. Its the first time in probably three years that Ive actually got some desire to go out and practice and compete again, he said.
 
Unlike his Day 1 counterpart, Price is no longer motivated by ruling the golfing world or adding to his major collection, which stands at two PGA Championships and one British Open. Hes been there, done that. Hes a certified Hall of Fame member, and someone who wont hesitate to skip out on a mid-summer major to spend time vacationing with his family.
 
Golf has always meant a lot to me, but its never, ever been the absolute end of all ends, he said.
 
Price has always referred to himself as a realist. And he has but one real goal in mind for 2005.
 
Make the Presidents Cup team, he said. Thats a huge motivating force for me this year, to make it in the top 10. And if I dont accrue enough (points), to show (International team captain) Gary Player that Ive played well enough to warrant an invitation.
 
Not that hes abandoned the notion of earning his first title since the 2002 MasterCard Colonial.
 
If I start playing well ' if I continue to show the form in my game and it improves, then winning will be an option. If I putt well and keep doing what Im doing, I think I have a chance to win again this year.
 
And maybe, for a least one day, hell be able to open up a bottle of that old magic come Thursday.
 
I hope so, he said in as simple a fashion as his white shoes. I hope so.
 
Related Links:
  • Brackets - WGC-Accenture Match Play
  • Full Coverage - WGC-Accenture Match Play
  • Getty Images

    Garcia leads as Valderrama Masters extends to Monday

    By Will GrayOctober 21, 2021, 3:52 pm

    Weather continues to be the enemy at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where Sergio Garcia remains in front as the tournament heads for a Monday finish.

    European Tour officials had already ceded the fact that 72 holes would not be completed this week in Spain, but players were not even able to finish 54 holes before another set of thunderstorms rolled in Sunday afternoon to once again halt play. Garcia remains in front at 10 under, having played seven holes of the third round in even par, while Lee Westwood is alone in second at 7 under.

    Officials had previously stated an intention to play at least 54 holes, even if that meant extending the tournament to Monday, given that this is the final chance for many players to earn Race to Dubai points in an effort to secure European Tour cards for 2019. Next week's WGC-HSBC Champions will be the final event of the regular season, followed by a three-event final series.


    Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


    Garcia, who won the tournament last year, started the third round with a four-shot lead over Ashley Chesters. He balanced one birdie with one bogey and remains in position for his first worldwide victory since the Asian Tour's Singapore Open in January.

    Westwood, who has his son Sam on the bag this week, made the biggest charge up the leaderboard with four birdies over his first eight holes. He'll have 10 holes to go when play resumes at 9:10 a.m. local time Monday as he looks to win for the first time since the 2015 Indonesian Masters.

    Shane Lowry and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano are tied for third at 6 under, four shots behind Garcia with 10 holes to play, while Chesters made two double bogeys over his first four holes to drop into a tie for sixth.

    Getty Images

    Austin wins Champions tour's playoff opener

    By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

    RICHMOND, Va. -- Woody Austin knew Bernhard Langer was lurking throughout the final nine holes, and he did just enough to hold him off.

    Austin shot a 3-under 69 for a one-stroke victory Sunday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

    Langer, the defending tournament champion and series points leader, made the turn one shot off the lead, but eight straight pars kept him from ever gaining a share of the lead. Austin's birdie from 6 feet on the closing hole allowed him to hang on for the victory.

    ''It seemed like he couldn't quite get it over the hump,'' Austin said about Langer, who also birdied No. 18. ''I'm not going to feel bad for the guy. The guy's kind of had things go his way for the last 12 years. Now he sees what it's like to have it happen.''

    The 54-year-old Austin finished with an 11-under total for three rounds at The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course. He won his fourth senior title and first since 2016, and said windy and cool conditions that made scoring difficult played to his advantage.

    ''I was happy to see it. I really enjoy a difficult test,'' he said. ''... I enjoy even par meaning something. That's my game.''

    Langer closed with a 70. The winner last week in North Carolina, the 61-year-old German star made consecutive birdies to finish the front nine, but had several birdie putts slide by on the back.


    Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


    ''I made a couple important ones and then I missed a couple important ones, especially the one on 16,'' Langer said. ''I hit three really good shots and had about a 6-footer, something like that, and I just didn't hit it hard enough. It broke away.''

    Austin dropped a stroke behind Jay Haas and Stephen Ames with a bogey on the par-3 14th. He got that back with a birdie from about 5 feet on the par-4 15th and then got some good fortune on the final hole when his firmly struck chip hit the flag and stopped about 6 feet away.

    ''I always say usually the person that wins gets a break on Sunday,'' he said. ''That was my break.''

    The 64-year-old Haas, the second-round leader after a 65, had a 74 to tie for third with Fran Quinn (69) and Kent Jones (70) at 9 under. Haas was bidding to become the oldest winner in the history of the tour for players 50 and older.

    ''Disappointed, for sure,'' Haas said. ''Not going to get many more opportunities like this, but it gives me hope, too, that I can still do it.''

    The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 move on to the Invesco QQQ Championship next week in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

    Getty Images

    After Further Review: American success stories

    By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 21, 2018, 8:35 pm

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

    On the global nature of Koepka's rise to No. 1 ...

    Brooks Koepka is an American superstar, and a two-time winner of his national open. But his rise to world No. 1 in, of all places, South Korea, emphasizes the circuitous, global path he took to the top.

    After winning the CJ Cup by four shots, Koepka was quick to remind reporters that he made his first-ever start as a pro in Switzerland back in 2012. He cracked the top 500 for the first time with a win in Spain, and he broke into the top 100 after a good week in the Netherlands.

    Koepka languished on the developmental Challenge Tour for a year before earning a promotion to the European Tour, and he didn’t make a splash in the States until contending at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

    It’s a testament to Koepka’s adaptability and raw talent that he can handle the heights of Crans-Montana as well as the slopes of Shinnecock Hills or rough of Nine Bridges. And as the scene shifts to China next week, it highlights the global nature of today’s game – and the fact that the best in the world can rise to the occasion on any continent. - Will Gray


    On the resurgence of American women  ...

    American women are on a nice roll again. Danielle Kang’s victory Sunday at the Buick LPGA Shanghai was the third by an American over the last five events. Plus, Annie Park and Marina Alex, emerging American talents looking for their second victories this season, tied for second. So did American Brittany Altomare. Two years ago, Americans won just twice, their fewest victories in a single season in LPGA history. Overall, women from the United States have won seven times this season.

    The Americans are making their move with Stacy Lewis on maternity leave and with Lexi Thompson, the highest ranked American in the world, still looking for her first victory this year. Yes, the South Koreans have won nine times this season, but with four LPGA events remaining in 2018 the Americans actually have a chance to be the winningest nation in women’s golf this year. With all the grief they’ve received the last few years, that would be a significant feat. - Randall Mell

    Getty Images

    In Buick win, Kang overcame demons of mind and spirit

    By Randall MellOctober 21, 2018, 3:33 pm

    Danielle Kang beat three of the most formidable foes in golf Sunday to win the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

    Anxiety.

    Frustration.

    Anger.

    Kang overcame these demons of mind and spirit to win for the second time on tour, backing up her KPMG Women’s PGA Championship victory last year.

    “I’ve been going through a lot mentally,” Kang said.

    Kang birdied four of the last eight holes to close with a 3-under-par 69, coming from one shot back in the final round to win. At 13-under 275, she finished two shots ahead of a pack of seven players, including world No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and former world No. 1 Lydia Ko (66).

    It hasn’t been easy for Kang trying to build on her major championship breakthrough last year. She started the fall Asian swing having missed three cuts in a row, five in her last six starts.

    “I had to go through swing changes,” Kang said. “I had the swing yips, the putting yips, everything possibly you could think of.

    “I was able to get over a lot of anxiety I was feeling when I was trying to hit a golf ball. This week I just kept trusting my golf game.”

    Through her swoon, Kang said she was struggling to get the club back, that she was getting mentally stuck to where she could not begin her takeaway. She sought out Butch Harmon, back at her Las Vegas home, for help. She said tying for third at the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week felt like a victory, though she was still battling her demons there.

    “Anxiety over tee balls,” Kang said. “People might wonder what I'm doing. I actually can't pull the trigger. It has nothing to do with the result. Having to get over that last week was incredible for me. Even on the first round, one shot took me, I think, four minutes.”

    Kang, who turned 26 on Saturday, broke through to win last year under swing coach David Leadbetter, but she began working with Harmon while struggling in the second half this year.


    Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos


    “I was actually very frustrated, even yesterday,” Kang said. “Things just weren't going my way. The biggest thing that Butch tells me is to stay out of my own way. I just couldn't do that. If I had a short putt, I just kept doubting myself. I couldn't putt freely.”

    Kang said her anger and frustration built up again on the front nine Sunday. She made the turn at 1 over for the round. She said her caddie, Oliver Brett, helped her exorcise some anger. After the ninth hole, he pulled her aside.

    This is how Kang remembered the conversation:

    Brett: “Whatever you need to do to let your anger out and restart and refresh, you need to do that now.”

    Kang: “Cameras are everywhere. I just want to hit the bag really hard.”

    Brett: “Here's a wedge. Just smash it.”

    Kang did.

    “Honestly, I thank him for that,” Kang said. “He told me there are a lot birdies out there. I regrouped, and we pretended we started the round brand new on the 10th hole. Then things changed and momentum started going my way. I started hitting it closer and felt better over the putts.”

    Kang said the victory was all about finding a better place mentally.

    “I'm just so happy to be where I'm at today,” Kang said. “I'm just happy that I won.

    “More so than anything, I'm finally at a place where I'm peaceful and happy with my game, with my life . . . . I hope I win more. I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.”