Quick Round with Barry McDonnell

By Randall MellOctober 22, 2009, 11:37 pm

Rickie Fowler’s golf swing is a throwback

That’s what his father, Rod, calls the move Rickie fashioned under the eye of a driving range pro at Murrieta Valley Golf Range near their California home. Rickie was about 3 ½ when his grandfather, Taka Tanaka, took him to Barry McDonnell for his first lesson. McDonnell was the only swing coach Fowler knew from his start to the day he turned pro last month

Fowler, 20, the former Oklahoma State standout, made an impressive start last week in his first PGA Tour event as a professional with a tie for seventh at the Justin Timberlake Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. The finish earned him a spot in this week’s Frys.com Open at Grayhawk Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. It allowed him to pass on the sponsor’s exemption he had into the event.

PGA Tour fans seeing Fowler for the first time will notice he doesn’t have the classic swing most young players are taught today. He has a flat swing, that’s slightly laid off at the top and loops into his downswing. McDonnell will turn 74 in December and can still be found teaching at the Murrieta Valley Golf Range. His work with Fowler is celebrated on “Rickie’s Wall” in the range’s clubhouse. The wall sports a collection of photographs and mementos from Fowler’s many victories.

McDonnell learned from his grandfather, who came over from Scotland. His grandfather was the pro at New Bedford (Mass.) Country Club for 60 years. Senior writer Randall Mell caught up with McDonnell to talk about Fowler in a quick round:

As a driving range pro, were you a fan of the movie Tin Cup?

No, not really. I’m not big on that movie or the Happy Gilmore movie, either. Those movies were tough on business. We had people doing things they shouldn’t be doing, like aiming at houses and stuff. That wasn’t the best thing for range business. I like working at the range. You meet a lot of nice people, and you don’t have to keep 350 members happy.

You met Rickie when he was 3½, what do you remember about that?

I remember how he was all business even at that young age. He had this look in his eye. I called him the Little Hawk. He couldn’t wait to get started. He marched right out to where we were going to hit shots and was ready to go with no distractions. He would hit 5-woods to the pitching green, about a 60-yard carry. He was quiet. He didn’t talk a lot but neither did I.

Did he have that mop of long hair back then?

Oh yeah, he had that flowing hair even then.

Rickie’s father, Rod, was a Baha 1,000 champ. He had Rickie riding a dirt bike about the same time Rickie started golfing, right?

I didn’t realize Rickie was doing that at the time, but I knew he was a good athlete. When he started getting busted up on the bike, I thought, “Oh my goodness.”

Rickie broke his foot twice as a kid riding dirt bikes, once as a younger boy and once as a freshman at Murrieta Valley High School, three weeks before he was supposed to try out for the golf team. What did you think of motocross?

I remember him coming out in a cast to hit balls on one foot. Another time he came out with his chest caved in. I said, “We have to back off this sport, Rickie, God’s made golf your calling.”

How would you describe the swing you and Rickie built?

I try to make sure I don’t tell juniors things they don’t need to know, so they don’t get confused. You could see Rickie was a little lopsided when he started, his weight on one side where he would dig in for power, but he was right on plane. He swung his dad’s driver even when he was little.

Rickie’s dad and grandfather never cut down a driver for him, right? At first, he played with a woman’s driver, and then his father’s driver as he got a little older.

That’s how he worked that little figure eight into his swing.

Was that good for him, swinging that big club?

That gave him a lot of strength in his hands and forearms. He got a lot of speed doing that. I could see he was coming from inside and catching the ball square, so I didn’t take it away from him. I used to have him hit the ball with his eyes closed, for feel and confidence, going strictly by feel and rhythm gives you confidence.

So the flatter swing came from having that big driver?

He had to kind of work the club outside so he wouldn’t bounce the club over the ball. He would take the club out and drop it back in. That’s how he finds his ball. I told him don’t ever go away from that move. The only way he hits it left is if he pulls it. When he drops inside, he can hit it as strong as he wants. I have a bunch of kids I work with, and I don’t try to make them all look alike. Golf is more an art form than a science.

Rickie’s father calls you old school.

They say that, I don’t know. I let kids find their own personality in their swings. I just try to get the fundamentals in there, but I don’t try to make them all look alike. If the club is coming from the inside, and they get square to the ball, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a good swing.

What’s the personality that comes through Rickie’s swing?

Confidence and feel. You can tell, he just feels it and does it. It’s the old Bob Toski deal. See it, feel it, do it. Rickie can do it.

Rickie’s college coach, Oklahoma State’s Mike McGraw, says Rickie’s daredevil nature as a motocross kid comes through in the way he likes to hit different shots, challenging shots. Do you see that?

Yes, he does things that are just fun to watch. We used to work on shots all the time. We were always working on trying shots instead of just hitting balls. Little kids don’t get bored that way.

What kind of shots?

It might be the 18th hole at Augusta. “We need a cut here, can you do it?” He would always say, “Yeah, I can do it.” And I’d tell him I knew he could do it. Or it might be the 13th hole at Augusta, where you needed to hit a draw around the corner. He loved the challenge of that. It got his juices going. I told him you have to love the pressure of having to make a shot. I think all great players like that.

Rod said you taught Rickie to be mentally tough, never to let anyone intimidate him.

You just get out of Rickie’s way and let him play. He’s got it. He never stopped learning. It’s key. I spent most of my time on the mental side. I keep working my kids’ minds. It’s harder to groove your mind than your golf swing.

What are you trying to teach?

I’m trying to get them to believe in themselves, and not to play with a lot of thought. Just concentrate on your target. Your target may be 20 feet left, or 20 feet right, or dead at the pin.

Rickie recently bought a place in Las Vegas. Has he visited the range lately?

Yes, he came out a couple weeks before the Walker Cup, but he’s all over the place now. I got him where I want him, and he can take care of himself now. I told him I can’t be with him all the time, so he’s good at working things out on his own. Jack Nicklaus didn’t have Jack Grout with him all the time. Nicklaus said he knew he was good when he knew he could put himself back together. I believe in that. When Rickie does come to town, he takes some of my juniors out and plays golf with them. It’s a big thrill for them. He’s good about that.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

So much for that.

Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

What’s the difference now?

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

“I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

“I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”