Nelson passed over, yet again, for Ryder captain

By Rex HoggardDecember 12, 2012, 5:45 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – This isn’t about long overdue mulligans or shattering the status quo or even phone calls that were never made. When you’ve lived 65 full years, validation is in the eye of the beholder and for Larry Nelson, three major championships and a loving family provide all the validation one could ask for.

But as Nelson finished his breakfast on a dreary central Florida morning on Wednesday there was no hiding the hurt.

“If they had made a decision a little earlier and let me know. If they had just called us and said, ‘We’re going another direction,’ I’d have been fine. I’m fine anyway,” Nelson said in his signature soft-spoken southern drawl. “The way it’s come down and to have someone say that they did contact me when they didn’t, that didn’t make sense.”

That “someone” was PGA of America president Ted Bishop, who was asked by XM Radio’s Matt Adams on Wednesday’s “Fairways of Life” show to comment on reports that he hadn’t contacted David Toms or Nelson about the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain’s vacancy.

“The statement you just made is not true,” Bishop said flatly but later clarified his comments to and did talk with Nelson Wednesday afternoon.

Report: Watson to be named '14 Ryder Cup captain l Video: Nelson 'disappointed'

Semantics aside, neither Bishop nor anyone else at the PGA of America ever contacted Nelson or anyone associated with him regarding the 2014 Ryder Cup captaincy. Or the 1995 or ’97 Ryder Cup captaincies, for that matter.

In fact, Nelson couldn’t recall ever getting a call from PGA HQ even after he won his two PGA Championships. But then the man who led a U.S. Army “A-team” during the Tet Offensive in Vietnam doesn’t really have much interest in protocol or perceived slights.

Nelson is quick to point out that Tom Watson, who will be named the ’14 U.S. Ryder Cup captain on Thursday in New York according to various reports, will be an extraordinary leader with an impeccable record. Like most of the golf world, however, he just doesn’t understand the process.

“There are a lot of people who have been Ryder Cup captains with less credentials and some that have been chosen with more credentials,” Nelson said. “It’s not that you sit back and say that you should have been. I think there are plenty of guys that should have been (captain) but have not. It’s just a little bit of a crying shame when you pick someone to do it twice when there are a lot of people out there who haven’t done it once that deserve it.”

Nelson would never call it a slight, that kind of self-indulgent sentiment is not in his DNA, but the oversight dates back to late 1993 when, according to Nelson, Lanny Wadkins suggested that he should captain the 1995 team at Oak Hill in New York and Nelson would then take his turn in 1997 against the late Seve Ballesteros in Spain.

“That to me was a done deal,” Nelson said. “I assumed everyone would be good to their word and I would captain in ’97.”

For the record, Nelson didn’t receive a phone call when the PGA bypassed him in ’97 and picked Tom Kite either.

“It’s amazing through all this I’ve never gotten a call,” he said. “I don’t understand it. It’s not sour grapes, I’m just flabbergasted.”

That the PGA of America seems poised to break from the traditional mold for captains is something of a competitive necessity given the U.S. side’s 2-for-9 record in the last 11 matches. That they would go back to the well and name Watson, the last U.S. captain to win a match in Europe, also dovetails with what Bishop said this week, “we’ve done something a little bit different this year.”

What is surprising is that Nelson was apparently never considered, at least not to the point that it warranted a phone call.

In late 2008, in the wake of the U.S. victory at Valhalla, your scribe cornered a PGA official and asked if the organization would consider giving Paul Azinger, whose “pod” system and proactive style wrested the Americans off of a three-match losing streak, a second term.

“We have more qualified potential captains then we do available spots,” was the official’s response.

And yet here we are on the verge of naming the first second-term captain in the modern era and another snub, and not just for Nelson but for a host of viable candidates.

“There are people – Hale Irwin, Mark O’Meara – who have not been named captain that deserved it,” Nelson said. “Watson would be a great captain. I have no problem with that. It is an honor. It is a selection. It’s not earned. But I just don’t understand the selection.”

In a moment of awkward clarity we asked Nelson, who has a 9-3-1 record in three Ryder Cup starts, what he would have said had the PGA of America called him and asked what kind of captain he would be for the ’14 matches in Scotland?

“There is a level of desire to use the talent the way it’s supposed to be used. I’m talking about the 12 guys that are on the team,” he said. “Being able to prepare them for the team matches and the individual matches, that’s important and I think I’d have been able to do it.

“When you go overseas you’re kind of in your own little group. It’s kind of like going to a warzone, basically.”

With that Nelson – who is likely the last chance the PGA of America had to name a man who has actually led troops into harm’s way a captain for their faux Ryder Cup battle – set out for a practice round at this week’s PNC Father/Son Challenge with, of all things, his cell phone gripped tightly in his right hand. Waiting, it seems, for a phone call that is two decades overdue.

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Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation

By Doug FergusonMarch 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?

''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.