In Search of Passion

By Rex HoggardOctober 6, 2010, 1:00 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – During the dark days of the American Ryder Cup experience, back when Mark O’Meara was openly wondering where all that cup cash was going and David Duval started referring to the event as an exhibition, it became good sport in media circles to question how badly the U.S. side really wanted to win Samuel Ryder’s golden keepsake.

It was clean and easy and utterly incorrect, but then how else could one explain a nine-point loss to a marked paper underdog in 750 words or less?

For some reason it made more sense to dismiss the matches as an overblown spectacle than cop to the reality that their 12 were that much better than our dozen. Call it rationalization on a national scale.

So it seems perfectly apropos that Hunter Mahan, the man who just four years ago eluded to the idea that if the Americans were to be paid for their biennial services they would somehow take the event more seriously, put an emotional end to the “they just don’t care as much” complex.

“(Graeme McDowell) played – he just beat me today,” Mahan stammered in broken words and with heartbroken clarity.

Mahan, an original Tour robot tucked neatly inside a pair of wraparound sunglasses and a steady diet of clichés, was gutted and speechless by his loss to McDowell in Monday’s final singles match.

All those who made it through those dark Ryder Cup nights secure in the notion that if only the Americans cared enough they would be unstoppable suddenly had nowhere to hide.

The unfiltered emotional truth of an American twenty-something can set you free.

“I've never cried after losing other than at the Ryder Cup,” Jim Fuyrk said. “We know what it means to us. Whatever you all thought in the past, whatever you've all written in the past, it's your observations, the way you feel. But that judgment really, I mean, we know what it means. I'm glad maybe finally you've all figured it out. And I'm sorry it's in this way.”

The myth of American indifference began manifesting itself in 1985 when the Europeans won for the first time since 1957. Since that five-point beat-down at the Belfry the Europeans have won nine of the next 13 meetings.

There were exceptions to the rule, like in 1991 when the U.S. survived a one-point slugfest at Kiawah Island, 1999 at Brookline and again in 2008 when Paul Azinger seemed to singlehandedly lift the Americans. Most everything in between, however, went the European’s way.

They want it more. They jell better as a team. They feed off the emotion of the event. Bull.

“It’s crazy,” three-time Ryder Cup player David Toms said on Tuesday at Sea Island Resort. “There’s a feeling that the European team, which is made up of people from an entire continent, has more pride than someone from the United States. That’s insane.”

In retrospect maybe the Americans wanted it too much.

Boo Weekley, a rookie on the 2008 team, has never had much use for a sports psychologist, but he remembers Azinger sitting him down at Valhalla and talking to him about deep breathing and extra practice swings.

The two-time Tour winner had to be convinced that nothing good comes from death-gripping an 8-iron.

For the modern American Tour pro the emotion of a Ryder Cup is counterintuitive to the way he’s been taught to play the game. At a major stoicism is a defense mechanism. At a Ryder Cup it’s a liability, at least in the media’s eye.

“I didn’t want to let down my team, my family. I sure as hell didn’t want to let down the USA,” Weekley said. “Here we were in the heart of the country. Kentucky, my kind of country with rednecks, and I really didn’t want to let anyone down.”

During those dark days it was the American stars, specifically Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who took most of the heat for what was perceived as U.S. indifference.

Turns out nothing could have been further from the truth.

“There’s definitely passion,” said Ben Curtis, a member of the 2008 team. “I remember Furyk and Phil saying we need to win this. We have to win this. They’d been on so many losing teams and wanted it so bad.”

In many ways what goes on behind the closed doors of the U.S. team room belies the passion the Americans have for the event, and last week captain Corey Pavin went to great lengths to assure that what happens in the U.S. locker room stays in the U.S. locker room.

The need for an inner sanctum is certainly understandable, but to be a fly on the team room wall is to understand how passionate the Americans are about the matches.

“Maybe they should let some of you guys (into the team room) to see the emotion,” Toms said.

But then it’s hard to imagine a more poignant, and painful, myth buster than the one Mahan struggled to deliver on Monday at Celtic Manor. Majors have been won and lost with a fraction of the emotion Mahan showed with one simple sentence.

“I almost broke down and started crying for Hunter myself,” Weekley said. “I would have done the same thing. I probably would have cried because I let my team down. The press should look at that and see that’s what the Ryder Cup means right there.”

The reality is the Europeans simply outplayed the U.S. team last week. But they didn’t want it more. Just ask Hunter Mahan.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.


A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

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There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.

Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos

“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”