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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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his 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 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."