Hooks & Cuts: Tiger, Jack and Jesse Owens

By Rich LernerJanuary 6, 2015, 1:25 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii - It's a new year, which offers a lot of new and intriguing storylines. We've got some old topics to tackle as well in this opening edition of Hooks & Cuts:

• For Tiger Woods, it’s not as simple as, healthy back equals healthy game. He has to be healthy psychologically to win big again. Tiger was always better cloaked in invincibility than he has been in vulnerability.

• An Ohio State victory over Oregon might be the biggest Buckeye win since Jack Nicklaus at the Masters in ’86. The greatest Buckeye triumph of all time remains Jesse Owens’ four gold-medal rebuke of Aryan supremacy at the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.

• Proof that it’s tough to win on Tour: Woods, Phil Mickelson, Henrik Stenson, Sergio Garcia, Jason Dufner, Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth failed to do so in 2014.

• Yippy and lifty, I’d been missing 3-footers all day. After another shove right at 17 I turned to my caddie and said, “This is sad.” He replied, “No, no, it’s not sad.” Empathetic, I thought. Then he added, “It’s pathetic.”

• A stab at the next three U.S. Ryder Cup captains: Steve Stricker, Mickelson and Jim Furyk.

• Rookies to watch in 2015: Tony Finau and Daniel Berger. Finau’s built like an NFL tight end and hits it miles. He’s gracious and he smiles. The son of former tennis pro Jay Berger, Daniel’s intense, long enough, and highly competitive. 

• Curious to see how they fare in '15: Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Dustin Johnson and Michelle Wie.

• The Masters is a feeling as much as it is a competition. No one understands that better than two-time winner Ben Crenshaw, who bids farewell to Augusta this April. Pass the tissues. 

• Struck by the beautiful vista from an elevated tee during a recent round, I stood transfixed in a moment of reflection, thinking, “This is golf.” I turned around and saw my buddy smoking a cigarette as he relieved himself in a bush and I thought, “No, THIS is golf.”

• When does Mickelson get his own tournament?

• I would not be surprised if Jason Day, Adam Scott, Garcia and Spieth won majors this year, or if Rory McIlroy won the career slam at the Masters. I would be pleasantly surprised if Larry Nelson were named Ryder Cup captain and if Tiger played an entire season injury free and won his 15th major.

• People do still read newspapers. At least I wish they did. On a recent flight the guy next to me kept loudly folding and shaking his newspaper as I was trying to sleep. Every 15 seconds, he crinkled and crunched it. I was dying to say, “Settle on something, anything. Page 12: Australian Panda gives birth to triplets. It’s a terrific story.”   

• We in the media too often focus on big names because it’s easy and it sells. Actually, rank-and-file tends to rule week-to-week on Tour. Rank-and-file works at it. Rank-and-file shoots 65. In 2014, Jimmy Walker, Reed, Kevin Stadler, Scott Stallings, Russell Henley, John Senden, Matt Every, Steven Bowditch and Matt Jones all won before the Masters.  

• Eighteen majors is still the singular record in golf, the most coveted and most talked about. But Sam Snead’s mark of 82 Tour wins isn’t far behind and I hope as Tiger, now with 79, inches closer that feat grows in magnitude. Let it marinate in your mind, the phrase, winningest golfer of all time. That also underscores the idea that Kathy Whitworth, with 88 career victories on the ladies' side, is underappreciated.

Jesse Owens

• Former USGA president and NCAA champion Sandy Tatum is now 94. He told me maybe the greatest single sports story I’ve ever heard and it involves Jesse Owens (pictured above). At 16, Tatum traveled alone from America to Europe to visit his sister, in 1936. Tatum went to the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin. “Chilling,” is how he describes the feeling as a stadium full of Germans stood to give the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler when he arrived each day. With a German, ironically named Luz Long, on the cusp of winning the long jump, Owens had one last chance to puncture Nazi propaganda that boasted of racial superiority. A smile comes across Tatum’s face as he readies for the story’s crescendo, the picture as clear and beautiful today as it was almost 80 years ago. “Owens took off on that final jump,” Tatum recounts. “And he never came down.”

• Masters wins that would move the needle most: Tiger, Rory, Rickie, Phil and Jordan, in that order. Hideki Matsuyama winning, and that’s not a remote possibility, would move it in Asia.  

• Anirban Lahiri of India and Antonio Lascuna of the Phillipenes are currently qualified for golf’s return to the Olympics next summer in Rio. Tiger and Phil are not.

• Tom Watson will likely play his 40th and final Open Championship this summer at the Old Course at St. Andrews. It’s just a few steps over the Swilcan Bridge, but miles and miles from Gleneagles, by then a long nine months shaking off the stench of the Ryder Cup to again bask in glory.

• Carlos Ortiz, the 2014 Web.com Tour Player of the Year with three victories, has a chance to become the first Mexican-born winner on Tour since Victor Regalado won the Ed McMahon-Jaycees Quad Cities Open in 1978. By the way, Quad Cities, now the John Deere Classic, is one of the most underrated tournaments, producing some good moments through the years. Payne Stewart always said that it was his most cherished win, in 1982, because it was his first on Tour and the only one his father, Bill, got to see before he died of cancer in 1985. The Grip, Eddie Fiori, took down Tiger there in 1996. And Spieth winning there in 2013 at age 19, the youngest in some 80 years on Tour, may someday turn out to be significant.

• Billy Horschel’s proud of his Fed Ex Cup title, but prouder of his mom, Kathy, who recently earned a college degree.

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.

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Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

“I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

“It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

“All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

He picked up his clubs three times.

That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

Not that he was concerned, of course.

Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

“It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

“I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

“He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

“I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

“I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

“With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”