Love Exciting and New Again

By Rex HoggardDecember 18, 2008, 5:00 pm
The transformation had been months, if not years, in the making, but it was a single round that ultimately set the wheels of redemption in motion. A second-round 73 at the Valero Texas Open sent Davis Love III back to Sea Island, Ga., for the weekend. But the 44 year-old didnt dash for the comfortable confines of his island home or his hunting cabin or the slopes of Sun Valley.
 
Instead, he went back to work. Less than 24 hours after posting his 3-over par card in San Antonio, Love settled into a spot on the Frederica Golf Club practice range at Sea Island with nothing but a collection of wedges and a plan as clear as the crisp ocean air.
Davis Love III
Love put together an impressive late-season rally during the Fall Series. (Getty Images)

Id never seen him show up with just his wedges, said Mac Barnhardt, Loves longtime friend and manager with Crown Sports. He knew that if he improved his wedge game everything else would follow.
 
So the longest player of his ' and the better part of the next ' generation went to the small ball. The result was Tour victory No. 20 and, with respectful apologies to Erik Compton, the most inspiring comeback of the season, non-transplant division.
 
That Love sealed Tour tilt No. 20 at the Childrens Miracle Network Classic with a pair of buzzer-beating wedge shots only made all that work on the Frederica practice range that much worthwhile. And that he did it a little more than a year after wrenching his ankle and undergoing potentially career-ending surgery is a testament to his drive.
 
As soon as they give us a ball and club you want to hit it, Love said. I was really doubtful (I could come back) until they got me back out onto the course and started letting me go.
 
In late September, Love was summoned to the Tour Championship to accept the Payne Stewart Award, which is given to the player who shared Stewarts respect for the traditions of the game. But his day at the podium should have come some 13 weeks later at another dias, on another coast.
 
Dudley Hart, who was named the Tours Comeback Player of the Year on Dec. 16, is one of the circuits most likeable players. He performed brilliantly in 2008 (six top-10s and a runner-up finish at the BMW Championship) after missing most of 2007 to be at home with his ailing wife. But its hard to imagine a player who rallied from the physical depths that Love had reached.
 
It was in late September of 2007 when Love stepped in a hole while playing golf in Georgia and ruptured all the lateral ligaments in his left ankle. Surgery, a languid recovery and doubt followed.
 
We had a rule, no one had ever come back too late from an injury, Barnhardt said.
 
Love, already one of the Tours most ardent gym rats, added another trainer to his stable and intensified his rehab work.
 
The results were mixed for much of 2008. Love qualified for the U.S. and British Opens, a pair of marathons that tested his rebuilt ankle more than his retooled game, and he finished tied for 19th at Royal Birkdale. But there were also plenty of missed cuts (five) and pedestrian finishes outside the top 50 (five).
 
Like Justin Leonard in 2007, Love viewed the Fall Series as a chance to set the stage for 2009. He tied for third, his best finish since 2006, finished tied for sixth in Las Vegas and was under par for 12 of his final 14 rounds to become just the fourth active player to reach the 20-victory club.
 
People were shocked that heres a guy with his exempt status out here playing six weeks in a row (in the fall), Love said. I gained some confidence. Now Im ready to go for the next year and years after.
 
But ready is not to be mistaken for appeased. True to form, Love has spent the weeks since his Disney breakthrough preparing for 2009. Late in the day on Dec. 16, not long after the Tour had named Hart the seasons most inspiring reclamation project, Love was back on a Sea Island practice range. This time he was testing new 3-woods and honing that reinvigorated wedge game.
 
Truth is, Love may have deserved to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award but, after 20-plus years on tour, he has little use for ceremonial accolades. He will begin 2009 with a single minded focus ' win.
 
He did the same thing at the end of 2002, Barnhardt said. He found motivation in that injury. Hes free and has it all behind him and hes ready to let loose.
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Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

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Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

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'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.



The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.



In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.

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Foley helping Willett (69) emerge from dark times

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 6:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – After all of the dark places Danny Willett has occupied over the past 18 months, he wasn’t about to beat himself up Thursday.

“As perfect as we try and be,” he said after a bogey-bogey finish gave him a 2-under 69, putting him three shots off the early lead at The Open, “you should remember the times that were terrible and go, Well, that’s not too bad.”

There have been plenty of terrible times lately for Willett.

Seemingly ever since that 2016 Masters breakthrough he’s been locked in golf purgatory, at times betrayed by his body, his swing and even his own brother.

Willett began to break down not long after he won at Augusta, a tournament, not unlike The Open here in 1999, that’s destined to be remembered more for the player who lost (in this case, Jordan Spieth) than the one who executed all the shots Sunday and triumphed.

Tournaments near and far wanted the Masters champion in their field, and Willett dutifully obliged, putting his slender frame under duress. First his back began to ache, making routine tasks like climbing out of bed and picking up his kids a chore. Then he blew out his shoulder, the pain eventually creeping into his neck. Trying to manage a body that wouldn’t cooperate, he recently told Press Association Sport that he was taking six painkillers a day, to little effect. With his game and body in disarray, his confidence needed a reboot, too, especially after his brother, P.J., posted a poor attempt at satire in the days leading up to the 2016 Ryder Cup. Already showing signs of decline, Willett withered under the spotlight at Hazeltine and needed more than a year to rebuild his self-belief.

How dark were those times?

“Pitch black,” he said. “Not a nice place to be.”

Save for a scare in Italy (knee) and in a practice round here at Carnoustie (shoulder), Willett has mostly been injury-free for the past eight months, allowing him to dive headlong into some much-needed changes. Needing a fresh start, he blew out the entire team around him late last summer, tabbing swing coach Sean Foley to overhaul his swing.

“He was quite battered,” Foley said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But Foley has a history of resurrecting players who have fallen on hard times, most famously Tiger Woods, with whom he began working in 2010, just a few months after his scandal. He’s also helped Sean O’Hair, Stephen Ames and Justin Rose find a swing that alleviates the discomfort in their backs.

Willett’s fall was steeper, and more harrowing, but for Foley the challenge remained the same.

“I guess I enjoy that in a way, because I’ve grown into a mentor as well as a coach,” he said. “They’ve been playing golf their whole life. They got good really quick, and when you get to the summit, there’s no oxygen and it’s really cold. Most climbers die when they go down a mountain instead of up it. These guys have never really struggled before.”

Mentally and physically, on a 0-to-10 scale, Willett was a “0” when Foley first saw him at last year’s PGA.

“When you know how good you can be, and you can’t get back to that point, that’s where they lose their mind,” Foley said. “The range can be a dangerous place to be.”

And so they targeted some of the moves in Willett’s swing that were causing him pain and went to work. Success was slow, but Foley reminded him to celebrate some of the small victories along the way. Even when he missed eight of 10 cuts earlier this year, Willett took time to appreciate that he wasn’t taking painkillers, or that he didn’t need to spend an hour on the physio table, or that he was starting to grow more comfortable in left-to-right wind.

“He’s a very charismatic guy, very upbeat, and I think with where I was, I really needed that,” Willett said. “We often have little jokes about where we were.”

Listening to Willett, the cockiness that fueled his rise to the top 10 in the world is gone. Perhaps that’s what happens when just seven of his 54 rounds played on the European Tour last year were in the 60s.

Even with three top-20s in his past five starts, rising from No. 462 to No. 320 in the world, he remains cautiously optimistic. Asked Thursday if the worst is behind him, he smiled: “You never know. But I’m pretty hopeful we’ll never be in as dark of a place as we were.”

“Regardless of what the golf is and how the golf is,” he said, “it’s a lot better place to be.”