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From World Cup to Ryder Cup, success in the details

By Rex HoggardJuly 11, 2018, 3:45 pm

In the run-up to this week’s Scottish Open, England’s Chris Wood tweeted a picture of a custom-made wedge with the words, “It’s coming home,” etched into the toe of the club.

Memes of the English team’s rally cry have flooded social media as the squad prepares for its semifinal match against Croatia on Tuesday at the FIFA World Cup in Russia, and even a wildly uneducated fan (your scribe pleads guilty) can appreciate what the moment means to both English soccer and the nation.

It also doesn’t take a lot of online digging to identify Gareth Southgate, the charismatic English manager, as the intriguing architect of the team’s improved fortunes in this World Cup.

Described in a recent Telegraph feature as “a sponge when it comes to small margins, tactical gains and simply trying to think differently,” Southgate’s success is an interesting study in the management of modern athletes.

Earlier this year, Southgate traveled to Minneapolis to attend the Super Bowl and while he was there he took a train to watch the Minnesota Timberwolves play the Milwaukee Bucks. He’s not so much a fan of basketball as he is the concept of team cohesion and the complicated dynamics of convincing young, rich and successful athletes that the success of the team transcends individual accomplishments.

Southgate has made an art of pulling from other sports, from the NFL to international rugby unions, both tactical and psychological tidbits he’s used to make this World Cup England’s most successful in decades, regardless of Tuesday’s outcome in Russia.



Simply put, following decades of competitive futility, a young group of talented players buying into a singular concept have become more than the sum of their parts.

Sound familiar?

It wasn’t that long ago when we were having these same conversations in U.S. golf circles. Heading into the 2016 Ryder Cup, the American side had lost six of seven matches, including a heartbreaking Sunday singles meltdown in ’12 and a particularly embarrassing 16 1/2-11 1/2 drubbing in Scotland in ’14.

From that Scottish loss was born a complete overhaul of the American Ryder Cup team. Officials, in conjunction with players, reworked the way teams were formulated and how captains were selected. Like Southgate,’16 U.S. captain Davis Love III fixated on the minutiae, the small margins to gain a tactical advantage, and delegated responsibility from the top down, each vice captain, each player, each caddie had specific goals and responsibilities.

It’s the Bill Belichick deal: Do your job.

Love will quickly dismiss his role in turning America’s Ryder Cup fortunes around, instead insisting that is was the players and the process that lifted the U.S. side to a 17-11 victory two years ago at Hazeltine.

Most reports suggest Southgate adheres to a similarly subdued profile, but there is no mistaking how both leaders, and those around them, have been able to transform a team of all-stars into an all-star team, players invested in the notion of competing for their country, not a paycheck.

Even the two front-men’s pre-game concoctions strike a similar tone.

Southgate began a ritual prior to each match where a decorated former player presents a current player with his jersey in the locker room as a way to reinforce how meaningful it is to represent your country.

Prior to the ’16 matches, which were played not far from where Southgate studied the Super Bowl teams in Minnesota, Love had three-time Ryder Cup player and Golf Channel analyst David Duval come to the team room after a particularly heated on-air exchange with Brandel Chamblee about who was to blame for America’s misfortunes in the matches. Duval was given a standing ovation by the team.

This year’s U.S. captain Jim Furyk is cut from the same detail-oriented mold, already making numerous trips to Le Golf National in Paris, site of this fall’s matches, to oversee the most mundane of details (he’s already organized how the team’s hotel rooms will be arranged, for example).

In many ways, some still dismiss the importance of the U.S. Ryder Cup task-force-turned-committee, and in the run-up to the ’16 matches even some of the European players smirked at the notion answers could be found in a conference room. But there is an art to nuanced leadership. Love proved the point two years ago, and England’s Southgate is proving it now at the World Cup.

Success is in the margins and can be found in the most unexpected places.

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Weather extends Barbasol to Monday finish

By Associated PressJuly 23, 2018, 12:25 am

NICHOLASVILLE, Ky. - A thunderstorm has suspended the fourth round of the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship until Monday morning.

Sunday's third stoppage of play at Champions Trace at Keene Trace Golf Club came with the four leaders - Hunter Mahan, Robert Streb, Tom Lovelady and Troy Merritt at 18 under par - and four other contenders waiting to begin the round.

The tournament will resume at 7:30 a.m. on Monday. Lightning caused one delay, and play was stopped earlier in the afternoon to clear water that accumulated on the course following a morning of steady and sometimes-heavy rain.

Inclement weather has plagued the tournament throughout the weekend. The second round was completed Saturday morning after being suspended by thunderstorms late Friday afternoon.

The resumption will mark the PGA Tour's second Monday finish this season. Jason Day won the Farmers Insurance Open in January after darkness delayed the sixth playoff hole, and he needed just 13 minutes to claim the victory.

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Watch: Spectator films as Woods' shot hits him

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:07 am

It was a collision watched by millions of fans on television, and one that came at a pivotal juncture as Tiger Woods sought to win The Open. It also gave Colin Hauck the story of a lifetime.

Hauck was among dozens of fans situated along the left side of the 11th hole during the final round at Carnoustie as the pairing of Woods and Francesco Molinari hit their approach shots. After 10 holes of nearly flawless golf, Woods missed the fairway off the tee and then pulled his iron well left of the target.

The ball made square contact with Hauck, who hours later tweeted a video showing the entire sequence - even as he continued to record after Woods' shot sent him tumbling to the ground:

The bounce initially appeared fortuitous for Woods, as his ball bounded away from thicker rough and back toward the green. But an ambitious flop shot came up short, and he eventually made a double bogey to go from leading by a shot to trailing by one. He ultimately shot an even-par 71, tying for sixth two shots behind Molinari.

For his efforts as a human shield, Hauck received a signed glove and a handshake from Woods - not to mention a firsthand video account that will be sure to spark plenty of conversations in the coming years.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.