Motivational Captains

By Randall MellSeptember 30, 2010, 1:15 am

Ryder Cup

NEWPORT, Wales – Seven decades ago, University of Michigan football coach Fielding Yost gave a pregame speech so dizzyingly good he got lost in the moment.

Legend has it, Yost leaped up afterward and opened the wrong door of the locker room before kickoff and sent his frenzied troops sprinting into a swimming pool.

Motivation’s a funny thing.

Football coaches will tell you it’s overblown, that the emotions stoked in hopes that they can get their players to “win one for the Gipper” are burned off in the first few plays of a game. But they’ll tell you this while they are clipping some insult from a newspaper to plaster on the bulletin board they keep in their locker room. As a group, football coaches are famous for their belief in motivation’s power to elevate athletes to perform beyond their perceived limitations.

That brings us to this week’s Ryder Cup matches at Celtic Manor in Wales.

Corey Pavin and Colin Montgomerie
The captains have already used several motivational tools. (Getty Images)

Golf isn’t anything like football. You can’t compete if you’re worked into a frenzy at the first tee. And yet, you can make a pretty good argument that motivation and inspiration are more effective in team golf than they are in football.

You can make that argument because momentum’s such an important phenomenon in Ryder Cup matches.

The winner of the opening morning session has won the last four Ryder Cups.

The notion that you can create momentum before the first putt is stroked was the fuel behind American captain Paul Azinger’s pod system before the United States won at Valhalla two years ago. He grouped his team into pods of four players of similar personality traits and nurtured the bonding process.

Skeptics will tell you that hot putters win Ryder Cups. Azinger will tell you that you can heat those putters up in the team room before the matches even begin. You can create an atmosphere that puts players in a confident and comfortable state that makes putts easier to hole.

“I would think that this week the teams are so evenly balanced that a lot is going to come down to the quality of decisions from the captain,” Ireland’s Padraig Harrington said.

Harrington was talking about tactical decisions European captain Colin Montgomerie and American captain Corey Pavin will make this week. He was talking about the partners they’ll put together, their choices in who goes out first and who sits. But both captains are also moving chess pieces in their players' hearts and minds, even as they deny their teams need extra doses of motivation.

On Tuesday night, Montgomerie connected his team with Seve Ballesteros by speakerphone. Ballesteros, the Spaniard who was the heart and soul of Europe’s rise to Ryder Cup prominence, is fighting brain cancer.

“The whole team spoke to Seve for about 10 minutes,” Montgomerie said. “That was very motivational, very passionate, and also very sad to hear him, to hear the way he is. Still, the passion is very, very strong with Seve. That was an inspiration, especially to the rookies in the team.”

Montgomerie also arranged for former Wales rugby star Gareth Edwards to speak to his team.

“Gareth Edwards is a legend in these parts and has to be Wales most famous sportsman of all time,” Montgomerie said.

While Montgomerie insists his team doesn’t need to be motivated, he appears to be pulling out all the stops in seeking to give his team the motivational high ground when these matches begin Friday.

“The only motivation this team needed was to lose the Ryder Cup two years ago,” Montgomerie said.

And yet Montgomerie will unveil a speech in Thursday’s opening ceremonies that he hopes will put his team 1-up before the matches even begin. He said he believes the speeches captains give on the eve of the matches are factors in who wins.

“It seems to make a difference psychologically, as to what happens when the action begins,” Montgomerie told the Daily Mail. “It's part of a trend, where the team whose captain gives the best speech tends to start well the next day and that sets the tone for the match itself.”

Pavin isn’t buying it. In fact, he questions motivational manipulation. He wants his team confident, but he doesn’t believe his words can dictate who wins or loses matches. Apparently, he doesn’t want to send his troops racing into a swimming pool before they hit their first tee balls.

“I don’t think the guys need to be motivated,” Pavin said. “They are as motivated as they are going to be. I’m more concerned about keeping their emotions in check, having it relaxed in the team room at night. There’s plenty going on, plenty of emotional stress. I just want them to relax and conserve their energy.”

That didn't prevent Pavin from bringing a special guest into the team room Tuesday night to inspire his team.

Pavin brought F-16 fighter pilot Dan Rooney into speak. He’s the man behind Patriot Golf Day, a program designed to help families of soldiers killed in war.

“It wasn’t so much a motivational speech, per se, but maybe a little more awareness of what’s happening in the world, what’s going on,' Pavin said.

“I want these guys to be accountable to each other and have each other’s backs. Basically, that’s what happens in the military.”

Basically, that’s what Azinger wanted to do with his pod system.

Pavin believes his players need to work in an atmosphere that emboldens their confidence, but he doesn't believe he can motivate somebody to make a putt.

“You can’t inspire someone to make a 20-foot putt,” Pavin said. “You have to be under control. And that’s what I’ve been talking to the guys a lot about, is staying emotionally under control, and to conserve your energy, because you’re going to use a lot of it Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

“I’ve played in tournaments where I felt like I was really nervous, and it was really hard to play, and I couldn’t relax, but I’ve done OK. At other times, I just felt like it was the easiest thing in the world to go out and play. If I could bottle that second part up and keep it all the time, it would be great. We don’t even know how we do it.”

But as captains, Montgomerie and Pavin are trying to figure it out this week.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."