No true off-season in golf

By Rex HoggardNovember 30, 2011, 1:39 am

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – Keegan Bradley bounded down the steep hill leading from Sherwood Country Club to the practice putting green late Tuesday like this week’s Chevron World Challenge was the first day of the school year.

“When I get back out here it is fun to see the guys. It’s like a second family,” the rookie gushed.

Moments later a weary-looking Hunter Mahan trudged his way up the same incline looking every bit the grizzled veteran.

“I’d like an offseason,” said Mahan, who is finishing his eighth year on the PGA Tour and his 28th event this season. “I’ve thought about that in different ways. It’s your job but at some point in the future if I had a family I could see myself saying, ‘You know what, I’m going to take a couple months off and I’m going to go travel.’

“It would be weird because people wouldn’t know what you’re doing, but I’ve totally thought about doing different things and taking some time off.”

To those in America’s northern states who are inching toward a long, cold winter Mahan’s take on pro golf’s nonexistent off-season may sound blasphemous but his assessment is neither insular nor misplaced.

Unlike baseball and football, which both feature prolonged off-seasons that in many ways feed the popularity of both sports, golf’s “break” is barely a blip. In fact, after next week’s Shark Shootout in south Florida be careful not to blink – you may miss it.

Bradley, for example, will play this week in California, next week at Greg Norman’s personal member-member and start anew the first week of January at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions followed by the Sony Open in Hawaii.

That’s two weeks to retool, tinker and turn it all around in time for 2012, a logistical truth that goes a long way to explaining why prolonged seasons of success, like that enjoyed by Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus before him, are so rare.

Without question, much of this off-season overkill is self-inflicted. No-cut events like this week’s Chevron World Challenge are akin to free money and no one would ever mistake a week in southern California for heavy lifting.

“I like to compete so, I’d say from a rest standpoint and for practice it would be nice to have a month and a half off. But we go from here to Hawaii. It’s not a horrible thing,” Nick Watney said. “It’s hard to get on a plane sometimes at the end of the year, but it’s in our blood. In three weeks we’ll be rested enough and be ready to get back at it.”

Not all of golf’s off-season is silly, however. Even this week at Sherwood, the money is nice but the world ranking points that are up for grabs may be worth even more.

Even for top players, there is an ever-present drive to remain inside the top 50 in the world ranking. So players like Watney play the Chevron and last month’s WGC-HSBC Champions to pad their points almost as much as the bank account.

For Watney, following China there was the Australian Open, dubbed by U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples a must-play for the members of his team, followed by the matches at Royal Melbourne.

It adds up to an off-season that is anything but, the ultimate Catch 22 for the Tour’s successful. The goal is to play well enough to qualify for events like the Presidents Cup and Chevron, but it is a membership to a club that is not entirely conducive to prolonged success.

Following the 2008 season, Watney took nearly three months off, while Mahan didn’t hit a shot that counted on Tour for almost as long. The result was breakout years for both players in 2009.

“I was fresh and a little rusty,” Mahan said. “I would do it differently next time, but I will definitely do it again.”

Pro golf’s shadow of an off-season is probably toughest on the fans who never have a chance to miss the game. The day pitchers and catchers report to spring training is the highlight of any baseball fan’s year, while preseason ratings for the NFL have never been higher.

Contraction is never a good business model, but every fall it’s impossible to shake a simple thought – sometimes less really is more.

Catch live coverage of the Chevron World Challenge on Golf Channel and NBC: Thursday and Friday – 2:30PM ET on Golf Channel; Saturday and Sunday – 12:30PM ET on Golf Channel, 3PM ET on NBC.

Getty Images

Descending into golf's depths, and trying to dig out

By Brandel ChambleeApril 23, 2018, 3:05 pm

Watching Alvaro Quiros finish second this past week in Morocco, I was reminded of just how rare it is for player to come back from the depths of golf hell.

Quiros, a player of immense ability, hype and length, won the Dubai World Championship – his sixth win in four years – to close out 2011 and then went down the rabbit hole of trying to change his golf swing. He would miss 11 cuts in 2012 and either miss the cut or withdraw in another 41 European Tour events over the next four years. Because he hadn’t won a major championship, his epic backwards slide in the world rankings (435th prior to this past week) mostly went unnoticed – but it was far from unusual.

Ian Baker-Finch won the 1991 Open Championship, but just three years later, when he played 20 events on the PGA Tour and missed 14 cuts, he no longer looked anything like a recent major champion. In 1995, he played in 18 events and either missed the cut, withdrew or was disqualified from every one of them. In 1996, he missed the cut in all 11 events he entered on the PGA Tour; and in 1997, he shot 92 in the first round of The Open, withdrew from the championship and stopped playing professional golf.

Like Quiros, Baker-Finch’s downfall came after his biggest win, when he finally thought he had the time, because of the 10-year exemption he received, to change his golf swing.

David Duval won the 2001 Open Championship and just two years later he shot 83-78 in the same event and missed the cut, which was one 16 events he either missed the cut or withdrew from that year. In 2005, he missed 18 cuts in 19 starts. Duval’s competitive demise may well have been precipitated by injuries and an existential malaise after winning golf’s oldest championship, but it was accompanied by queries far and wide as to how to correct his swing and thinking, just like Baker-Finch before him and Quiros thereafter.

These desperate searches for help, like the indelible ink stains on dyer’s hands, are the one common thread amongst those who suffer from the absolute negation of their technical and then creative abilities. Those who take as indisputable the theories of others are, in the deepest sense, wounding their own intuition. They are controverting the evidence of their own senses in such a way that is comforting to the insecure player, but tragic to the artist. To quote Carl Jung: “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”

As I write this, PGA Tour winners Steven Bowditch (1,885th in the world) and Smylie Kaufman (337th) are in similar downward spirals in their careers and no doubt are desperate for, and susceptible to any suggestion.

One player they can look to who made it back from the frantic madness that accompanies losing one’s game, is Henrik Stenson. He put his trust in one man, Pete Cowen, even though while working with Pete he missed 14 cuts in 2002, followed by 15 missed cuts in 2003, and 11 in 2004. What Stenson did not do was panic and run from teacher to teacher, from shrink to shrink, as the missed cuts piled up.

Stenson, with Cowen’s help, slowly built one of the most reliable swings in the history of the game. A swing that regularly leads events in fairways found and greens hit in regulation. A swing that authored the lowest score ever shot in major championship history. A swing that is a far cry from the OB-launching swipes he was taking in late-2001 and 2002.

Given the soul-eating depths of where he came from, a place from which few have dug themselves out of, I watch Stenson play golf with a far great admiration than I otherwise would, and similarly was pulling for Quiros in Morocco. The same way I am pulling for Bowditch and Kaufman to find their games again.

Getty Images

Langer skipping Senior PGA for son's HS graduation

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 2:53 pm

Defending champion Bernhard Langer will miss this year’s Senior PGA Championship to attend his son’s high school graduation.

Langer made the announcement Monday, during Senior PGA media day at Harbor Shores in Michigan. The event will be held May 24-27.

“I won’t be able to defend my title this year because my son graduates from high school that very same weekend,” he said. “Family comes first in my life, so I have to be there to celebrate.”

Langer said that his son, Jason, will play golf for the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. Langer and his family live in South Florida.

Langer won last year’s event at Trump National outside Washington, D.C. The 60-year-old has no wins but three runners-up in eight senior starts this season.  

Getty Images

Landry reaches OWGR career high after Valero win

By Will GrayApril 23, 2018, 12:40 pm

After notching his first career PGA Tour win at the Valero Texas Open, Andrew Landry also reached unprecedented heights in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Ranking.

Landry shot a final-round 68 at TPC San Antonio to win by two shots, and in the process he cracked the top 100 in the world rankings for the first time at age 30. Landry started the week ranked No. 114, but he's now up to 66th. The move puts him within reach of a possible U.S. Open exemption, given that the top 60 in the May 21 rankings will automatically qualify for Shinnecock Hills.

Trey Mullinax went from No. 306 to No. 169 with his T-2 finish in San Antonio, while fellow runner-up Sean O Hair jumped 29 spots to No. 83 in the world. Jimmy Walker, who finished alone in fourth, went from No. 88 to No. 81 while fifth-place Zach Johnson moved up five spots to No. 53.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Alexander Levy took home the title at the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II, allowing the Frenchman to move from No. 66 to No. 47. With no OWGR points available at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans, Levy is guaranteed to stay inside the top 50 next week, thereby earning a spot in The Players.

Idle since an MDF result at the Houston Open, former world No. 1 Lee Westwood dropped two spots to No. 100 this week. It marks the first time Westwood has been ranked 100th or worse in nearly 15 years, ending a streak of consistency that dates back to September 2003.

The top 10 in the rankings remained the same, with Dustin Johnson leading off at No. 1 followed by Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose. Rickie Fowler remains No. 6 with Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Sergio Garcia rounding out the top 10.

With no starts announced until the U.S. Open in June, Tiger Woods dropped two more spots to No. 91 in the latest rankings.

Getty Images

What's in the bag: Valero Texas Open winner Landry

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 23, 2018, 12:34 pm

Andrew Landry won his first PGA Tour event at the Valero Texas Open. Here's a look inside the winners' bag.

Driver: Ping G30 (9 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 65X shaft

Fairway woods: Ping G (14.5 degrees adjusted to 15.5), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 75X shaft; (17.5 degrees), with Project X HZRDUS Yellow 85X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (3-PW), with Nippon N.S. Pro Modus3 105 S shafts

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 (52, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue S400 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD ZB-S

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x