Safety Concern

By Rich LernerMarch 1, 2010, 10:49 pm
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – If it were a football game, the kid with the Brett Favre swagger had suddenly and inexplicably decided to avoid contact and run out of bounds, short of the first down.

The kid who looks like he could stand in the pocket and just rifle it on a line 45 yards down field dumped it to his safety valve who then got flattened by the free safety.

Rickie Fowler laid up at No. 15 with just 210 yards to clear the water, 230 to the front and the easiest hole-location of the week on the par 5 that kicks off a thrilling finishing stretch. It was a stock 3-iron, maybe a humped up 4.
Rickie Fowler
Rickie Fowler reacts to a missed birdie putt on 16 Sunday. (Getty Images)
He had ball in hand because of the overnight rain so the lie was perfect, and, as ground reporter Billy Andrade pointed out, he’d been flushing it all day. The two other guys in his group, Camilo Villegas and Mark Calcavecchia, were both further away than Fowler and they both went for it without thought and without a problem.  

“They both walked by with their caddies,” Andrade said. “You should’ve seen their faces.”

They couldn’t believe Fowler wasn’t going for it. Minutes before I’d just made what I thought was a prescient comment but instead turned out to be an idiotic one: “Rickie Fowler doesn’t strike me as a lay-up kind of guy.”

I interviewed Rickie late last year. He’s likable, down-to-earth, polite and focused.  He grew up riding dirt bikes in Murietta, Calif. See the jump, throttle up and let it fly. Fearless.  

What’s so appealing about Fowler is that he doesn’t over analyze the game, doesn’t use video equipment, nor does he employ a famous swing guru, just an old-school range pro back home.  No sports psychologists, either, thank goodness.

See it. Hit it. Chase it.

In just a few months he’s created a brand, and the brand is gunslinger. He looks like Leonardo DiCaprio and plays like Lanny Wadkins – fast and loose, the antidote to the slow, dull grind that’s weighed down modern professional golf.

And that’s why, as my partner Brandel Chamblee pointed out, the decision at 15 was so completely out of character. Fowler had the upper hand, if only for a moment. He’d just birdied 13 and 14. Ahead, Hunter Mahan had just missed a 10-footer for birdie to remain at 15 under, tied with Fowler.

If Fowler could make birdie or eagle – and an eagle wasn’t out of the question with a bold second – he’d have the tournament by the throat. But Mahan, who flat out stripes it tee to green and finally dropped some putts, got his hands around it instead. He dead centered a 14-footer at 16 that pulsated like a bottom of the ninth homerun at Fenway.

For all the clowning and boozing that defines the 16th at TPC Scottsdale Thursday through Saturday, when those grandstands are packed on a serious Sunday in a tight, late afternoon battle, that hole can look and feel and sound like a major.

It did when Mahan poured in what turned out to be the deciding putt.

Back in the 15th fairway Fowler seemed oblivious to the noise. Now one behind, surely he’d go for it. But at 230 to the front and just 210 to clear, this should have been a no brainer. Instead it was a no debater. He’d made up his mind even before Mahan’s deuce at 16.   

“If I was a few back I may have gone for it,” he told Steve Sands after the round. It also must be pointed out that Fowler failed to go for the green in 2 on Saturday from a similar distance. He also made par.

If you hit it in the water, and the same goes for Michael Sim and Tim Clark and Bubba Watson, all of whom laid up with nothing to show for it earlier this year, you man up and tell the press, “I was trying to win the golf tournament.”

Who’s going to argue with that?

“The tournament’s not won on 15,” Fowler added. Why not? Why wait?

“I felt like I could get a wedge in there close and make birdie,” he explained.  

Yes, he’s very good with his wedges, but with 3- or 4-iron in hand and a perfect lie, barring a chunk, he’s either in a greenside bunker, just short with an easy chip, or on the green putting for eagle.

“It was the most shocking play I’ve seen in 2010,” said Chamblee.

If he had to do it over again, Fowler said he’d “just go back and hit the wedge,” which came up short of the green. I would hope upon further reflection he’d reconsider.

Simply put, he’s just too damn good to layup from 230 yards. From that spot, again with ball in hand, I’d wager that he’d make birdie seven of 10 times going for the green in two.

Fowler ultimately was forced to hole a nervy 5-footer just to save his par at 15. To his credit, he hit good irons to 16, 17 and 18 but couldn’t cash in.

“Great players win,” Mahan said. “I want to be a great player.”

So too does Fowler. And he has every chance.

But right now, the young man with that Brett Favre swagger could use someone like Bill Parcells or Mike Tomlin to pull him aside, look the rookie in the eye and say, “Never again. You have a chance to make something happen. When you get a wide open look like that, you cock that rocket arm and let it fly. If you get picked off you get picked off.

“You’re a winner. You’re going to be the best in the game. But I don’t ever want to see that again.

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up


TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.


-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.

Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos

Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.