Olympic Dreams Are in the Details

By Rex HoggardOctober 9, 2009, 11:19 pm

SAN FRANCISCO – There are those who contend big picture, not minutia, should be our life looper. Details, the modern shaman contends, are for pencil-pushers handicapped by narrow vision.

Yet, as the news that golf had gotten its Olympic gold medal crept its way across the globe the thought occurred – “big picture” just became much more complicated. Paul Azinger said that it was “a zillion little details” that lifted the United States out of its Ryder Cup rut last year at Valhalla. It will be a gazillion details that will decide the game’s fate on the Olympic stage.

Make no mistake, golf’s Olympic walkoff is good for the game globally if not within the confines of the “Lower 48.” Proponents say the 2016 Games will spark interest in “developing golf nations,” which will beget millions of wannabe gold medalist, which will beget economic opportunity to build courses and sell equipment, which will beget global peace . . . or something to that effect.

Tim Finchem
Tim Finchem reacted to the Olympics decision Friday before fourball began at the Presidents Cup. (Getty Images)

Simply put, a gold medal has more street cred in Buenos Aires than a green jacket or a claret jug. It is the psyche of the third-world sporting nation that makes an Olympic opening so important for golf.

“The Olympics transcends just one sport,” said Michael Yim, a player manager with IMG who represents Y.E. Yang and K.J. Choi. “It is a more recognizable event and the general public would relate to it easier.

“Not that a PGA Championship or Masters win isn’t a tremendous accomplishment, but if you were to say K.J. or Y.E. is an Olympic gold medalist, it just resonates a different sound to it.”

The details, however, remain despite, or maybe because of, the fuzzy glow of victory.

Consider the 2016 docket: the Rio Games are scheduled to be played Aug. 5-21. Although the dates are not yet set for the ’16 PGA Championship or Ryder Cup, those events are historically played the second week of August and the second week of September, respectively.

Within an eight-week window, the game’s best will be asked to play the PGA at Baltusrol in New Jersey, the Olympics in Rio, the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National in Minnesota and whatever version of an unkissed FedEx Cup remains after Tiger Woods collects his eighth consecutive. When every event is special, none of them are.

“There will be some movement in the schedule,” PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said. “I looked at several permutations for each of the city dates and we will be able to manage our way through this.”

But then the question is will the public be able to manage potentially seven must-see events in eight weeks?

The chosen format also seems to be a detail that needs adjusting. Although most of the game’s top players agreed the best way to decide a gold medal bout is with 72 holes of stroke play, this week’s matches at Harding Park have shown the value of foursomes action.

Imagine America’s “Dream Team” of Woods and Phil Mickeslon (insert your own joke there) taking on the globe in a double elimination foursomes match, perhaps the purest format for a team event in golf.

One of the biggest concerns the International Olympic Committee had with golf is whether the game’s top players would support the Games. “That issue is put to rest,” Finchem said early Friday.

For 2016 the issue is put to rest, but what of the Games beyond the Tiger era? Golf has always been defined by major championships. No one can recite Jack Nicklaus’ World Cup record, or his Ryder Cup line, but those 18 Grand Slams are the holy grail of golf. Will the Olympics shift that paradigm or will the 2020 Games and beyond suffer the same fate of basketball, which faded in importance after the original “Dream Team” hit gold?

As Finchem was making the media rounds on Friday at Harding Park the sun finally worked its way through that frigid marine layer. The course and the commish took a moment to enjoy the spotlight.

“I’ve always wanted to be in Rio,” Finchem smiled.

Now that he and golf have that coveted ticket to Brazil, the hard work, and the details, remain.

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”