#AskLav: Looking back at 2013, ahead to 2014

By Ryan LavnerDecember 12, 2013, 2:05 pm

Here’s a depressing fact: The 2013-14 PGA Tour season will resume in 22 days, barring, of course, another onslaught of hellacious winds, freak snowstorms, derechos and seemingly everything but locust attacks. 

Seriously – 22 days. That’s barely enough time to roll out all of this end-of-the-year content, crank out season-preview stories, buy and return gifts, and then board a flight bound for Kapalua.

So it follows that this will be the final #AskLav mailbag of the year, because, really, we’re left with little choice. There aren’t many Thursdays remaining in 2013. But before diving into your mailbag questions, here are one scribe’s reflections on the year that was: 

• That Tiger Woods won five times and still wasn’t the clear-cut choice for Player of the Year choice tells me two things: 1.) He continues to be judged by the absurdly high standards that he set; and 2.) The quality of golf this year, worldwide, was incredible.

• Never covered a tournament quite like the WGC-Match Play. That week I had the early shift, meaning I covered the tournament Tuesday-Friday while another writer (in this case, the inimitable Rex Hoggard) stayed for the weekend when the field was cut to eight players. That was the plan, anyway. Mother Nature clearly had other ideas, and soon about four inches fell on the otherwise forgettable Dove Mountain course. There were snowball fights, dudes sledding on pizza boxes and long lines for hot chocolate. The warmest jackets we packed were fleece pullovers, and I ended up covering only a round and a half before heading to the airport. Needless to say, the Match Play is not on my 2014 tournament wish list. 

• The course I most wanted to play this year: National Golf Links of America. The host site for the Walker Cup matches is truly spectacular, and an ideal course for a match-play event. Let’s hope it’s not another 91 years before NGLA stages another high-profile tournament.

• Best Tour stop if you like food (which I do): Zurich Classic. Gained nine pounds this April after eating fried seafood platters, barbecued shrimp and succulent chargrilled oysters. And, yes, I’m drooling as I type this.  

• What did we learn from the Tiger-Sergio spat this year at the Players? When provoked, TW always seeks and destroys.

• The top 5 in the world ranking as of this writing is Tiger, Scott, Big Stense, Rosey and Phil. At this time next year, I think it will look like this: Tiger, Scott, Rory, Big Stense, Jason Day.

• One of the great thrills of the year was catching up with Jim Furyk’s group to follow his bid for 59 in Chicago. For all of his meltdowns in the past few years, he showed a lot of stones by stuffing that gap-wedge shot to kick-in range.

• Yes, Merion was tricked out for this year’s U.S. Open. It was possible, maybe even likely, to snap a wrist while hitting out of that rough. The average player couldn’t get home with driver-driver on 18. But man, what an awesome collection of holes. 

• Watching Rory McIlroy in San Antonio, I was convinced that he’d turn it around and win soon thereafter. His strut was back, but so, too, were the titanium-denting drives and rock-solid stroke. Yeah, that didn’t quite pan out – he didn’t win for another 34 weeks. 

• For what it’s worth, I was behind the first green at Conway Farms, staring right at Tiger, when his ball apparently moved in the pine needles. This new video rule is a good one – there was no way that movement was discernible to the naked eye.

• Precisely half of my rounds played this year were during GolfChannel.com’s 11-day adventure in Scotland – 126 holes in five days. My best round of the year (73) was in a tournament the day before my wedding. My worst (85) was the first round after my nuptials. Coincidence?



Is a heavier driver shaft the missing link in Tiger’s major game? Probably not. In his last 23 weekend rounds at a major, Woods has shot in the 60s just three times. Over that same span he has 12 sub-par rounds on Thursday-Friday. That tells me that there’s a mental hurdle, that he’s pressing, that he’s trying too hard for major No. 15. This a make-or-break year for Tiger when it comes to chasing Jack. If the world No. 1 doesn’t win one this year – with his game in order, with this favorable foursome of venues – then there’ll be serious doubt whether he can get to 15 majors, let alone 18.   



Well, if Watson had to make that decision today, the U.S. team would be in grave condition, unless, of course, you welcome the thought of an American side with Ryan Moore and Chris Kirk among the automatic qualifiers, with Jason Bohn, who has exactly two wins in 247 career starts, sitting next on the list at No. 10. Tiger (15), Kooch (16), Zach (17) and Sneds (18) would all be relying on picks. So would Billy Ho (21), Keegan (22), Stricker (26) and Spieth (71). Here’s guessing this list will look a little different in nine months.



Hey, at least Tiger is built to win in 2014! The same can’t be said for the lovable losers, who are stocked with young talent but at least a few years away from being a serious playoff contender. Tiger is more likely to break his curse first, since he’s as healthy as he’s been in years, he’s no longer bogged down with swing thoughts, and he’s approaching 2014 major venues at which he has had success. The Cubs, meanwhile, will be lucky to win 75 games. That drought lives on.



The single-most important hire will be the lead analyst. Love him or loathe him, Johnny Miller is must-watch TV at the Open. He LOVES that tournament. He’s been in that cauldron (as you might have been told a time or two), and he’s not afraid to opine, no matter how ridiculous. It was reported in August that Fox has approached Greg Norman about the gig, and that would be a curious choice, given his uneven record in the year’s second major (no wins, just five top 10s in 19 starts) and penchant for head-scratching comments (like this, for instance). Though he doesn’t have the same pedigree as Johnny or the Shark, I’d love to see Paul Azinger in that role. Smart, thoughtful, opinionated, well-researched. 



Good question. For all we know, the 28-year-old is either working hard on his game in Dallas, squandering all of his money ($12M in career earnings) in Vegas or getting ready to start filming the “Entourage” movie with Vincent Chase. He hasn’t played a full schedule since 2011 or been heard from, really, since undergoing surgery on his Achilles’ tendon in summer 2012. At this point, he remains more cautionary tale than comeback candidate. 



Indeed, this #AskLav mailbag – in which I formed an NFL team with only golfers – was my favorite of 2013. That group couldn’t be any more dysfunctional than the Redskins, right?

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DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.

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“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.

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For the U.S. team, advice from the gridiron

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 4:01 pm

Seve Ballesteros might have been a magician with a sand wedge, but he was truly hell on wheels.

As Europe’s captain at the 1997 Ryder Cup in his native Spain, Ballesteros led his team with a heavy foot, racing across the emerald landscape in a souped-up Club Car festooned with blue flags.

“All week long it seemed like there were four Seves or five Seves,” recalls Lee Janzen, who went 2-1-0 for the United States. “He was everywhere. I’d turn around and look up and he’d be following our group, and then he was gone, and then he was back with our group again. I found out years later that there were tunnels at the golf course. I asked [‘97 U.S. captain] Tom Kite and he said he knew about the tunnels, too, but it didn’t seem like he knew about ALL the tunnels.”

The most infamous golf cart in the history of the Ryder Cup is, mercifully, far from Paris, but somehow the skid marks from Valderrama remain.

Europe’s 14 ½-to-13 ½ win over the United States 25 years ago began a streak that has lasted over two decades, a stretch of European dominance and long American flights home.

While the United States has made large strides in teamwork and bonding, the work of its 2014 task force must be judged as incomplete until the Americans find a way in Europe.

It hasn’t happened since Bryson DeChambeau was 10 days old.

“I’m getting tired of saying I was on the last team to win on the road,” says Jim Gallagher Jr., who defeated Ballesteros in singles as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1993. “That was the horse-and-buggy era.”

The American road futility has not gone unnoticed. It has transcended the golf world to the point that figures throughout the sports world have watched as five straight American teams have returned from Europe empty-handed - from Valderrama, the Belfry, the K Club, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles.

One year, Seve shrinks the course, tightening the doglegs and taking driver out of the hands of Tiger and Phil (1997). Or Paul McGinley makes the big putt (2002). Or Darren Clarke proves an inspiration (2006). Or there’s rainsuitgate, golf's version of a wardrobe malfunction (2010). Or Jamie Donaldson starts knocking down flagsticks (2014).

It’s always been something - the vagaries of travel, body clocks out of rhythm, fewer friendly faces in the crowd and missed putts.

So how do you win on the road?

“Whatever you’ve done to be successful in a Ryder Cup at home you try to do the same thing on the road, as far as preparation, meals, meetings, practice, timing, as much as you can make it a home situation,” says Dan Reeves, who participated in nine combined Super Bowls as an NFL running back and coach. “Stay in as nice a place as you can. Do you have a pre-game meal? One thing you’ll talk about with your team is that they’ll be in Paris for several days.”

Reeves was the Atlanta Falcons' head coach for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami when one of his top defensive players was arrested for soliciting an undercover policewoman the night before the game.

The Falcons went on to lose to Reeves’ former team - the Denver Broncos - 34-19 in what has become one of the most well-known cautionary tales in sports.

“There are a lot of distractions on the road,” Reeves says. “Stay focused on what the job is, have things arranged to where they can do things as a group instead of going out and getting into any kind of trouble.”

R.C. Slocum, the former head coach of Texas A&M, also took his road preparation seriously, once going as far as calling Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for advice on a road game against the high-powered University of Hawaii.

“I called the military and said, ‘Tell me about moving troops from one time zone to another,’” Slocum says. “They gave me a study. The typical response for a long airplane ride is for adults to drink alcohol and coffee and for [college] kids to have carbonated drinks. If you have a few alcoholic beverages at 40,000 feet, you are going to have sleep issues and hydration issues. We put a quart bottle of water in every kid’s seat. ‘Drink this whole bottle before we get there.’”

Slocum says the study also told him to get his players on the time zone of the arrival city as soon as possible.

“The best thing to do when you land,” Slocum says, “is to go get some exercise.”

The coach put together a robust itinerary for his team that varied from a Polynesian dinner show to a solemn trip to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

After calling several coaches of teams who’d lost road games in Hawaii, Slocum packed extra sunscreen after being told of visiting athletes striking out to Hawaii’s beaches and ending up too sunburnt to comfortably wear shoulder pads.

“Those are things you can control,” Slocum says.

His Aggies won, 28-13.

What advice would he give to U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his 12 players as they try to unlock their own road riddle?

“This is a business trip at the highest level,” Slocum says. “They are so privileged to be on the team and represent the United States. They owe it to each other to be at their best. Anything a guy does against that is cheating his teammates and his country and all the people back home rooting for him. To play on the biggest stage is an opportunity that only rolls around a few times.”

That stage has only grown bigger through the years, as evidenced by the 50,000 fans that attended Hazeltine each day.

Some organizers have predicted 60,000 to 65,000 daily at Le Golf National.

And most won’t be donning red, white and blue.

“It’s a bit like in football in that you want to keep them quiet, but the louder they scream and the better you play, that’s what’s really energizing,” says Joe Theismann, who won Super Bowl XVII as the Washington Redskins' quarterback. “When you reach an elite status as an athlete, the ability to focus and block things out is paramount. I played in front of 100,000 people and I could still hear a pin drop.”

Theismann still remembers leading Washington to a 1983 road win against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

“Loudest stadium I’ve ever played in,” he says. “It was built down into the ground so the sound would circle around you and sit on top of you. Coming out of that game, you felt like you accomplished something.”

At Ryder Cups in Europe, that sound has been chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” a soundtrack on an endless loop.

“You want to thrive in that chaos,” says former Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. “That’s the true test of mental strength.”

Hawk imagined himself standing in the middle of the United States team room on the eve of the Ryder Cup.

“That’s a hell of a group to be addressing, a lot of major championships,” Hawk says. “I’d say ‘Look at your left and right. This is us against them, and we are in hostile territory. You’ve got each other, your wives, your family, and there is nobody else. Let’s go out here and lean on your brother. You go into Paris and beat up on Europe, you all will be talking about it for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”

Much better than talking about Seve’s old golf cart.

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U.S. team celebrates wins by Woods, Stricker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:50 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team was waiting to catch a charter flight to Paris late Sunday in Atlanta when the man everyone was waiting for arrived.

“We had a major victory for the team and we had a whole group of guys waiting in the team room, and then a giant roar when Steve Stricker walked in the room after his victory last night,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed.

Stricker, one of Furyk’s vice captains, did win on Sunday, but it was on the PGA Champions Tour at the Sanford International. The bigger roar, of course, was reserved for Tiger Woods, who won for the first time in five years at the Tour Championship.

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“Obviously Tiger played so well at the Tour Championship and to grab ahold of the golf tournament early and fend everyone off, I think was a good buzz in the team room,” Furyk said. “It’s nice to have those two guys play so well, and you know, start us off pretty well this week.”

Woods’ victory at East Lake included a final-round pairing with Rory McIlroy, who the American beat by three strokes, and set an early tone for the Ryder Cup. In fact, European captain Thomas Bjorn was even asked if Woods should be “feared” this week.

“We don't fear anyone because we've played against them so many times before individually but we respect our opponents and know what we are up against,” Bjorn said.

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U.S. Ryder Cup team arrives in Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:27 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team landed in Paris just before 1 p.m. (local time) on Monday and most players headed to the hotel to rest following a long week at the Tour Championship.

“I’m not going to be at the golf course tomorrow,” Justin Thomas said on Sunday following his final round at East Lake.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk said he encouraged his players to take a day to rest and recover with a busy week looming. Half of Furyk’s team have never played Le Golf National, site of this week’s matches, and the next three days promise to be a crash course in learning the nuances of the layout.

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“These next three days are very key for us and very important in practice to get to know this golf course, to understand as best we can the ins and outs,” Furyk said.

Thomas played the French Open on the Ryder Cup course in July and Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau made a scouting trip to Le Golf National prior to The Open.

“I was always a guy who broke down golf courses in a major trying to learn, like at a major championship, trying to learn a golf course in 36 holes and be very prepared for that round on Thursday,” Furyk said. “That's what we're going to have to do, and the European side is going to know the golf course a lot better.”