#AskLav: Tiger, Rory ... and the Red Solo Cup

By Ryan LavnerDecember 18, 2014, 10:00 pm

Have a question that you want answered? Tweet me at @RyanLavnerGC.


So we’ve finally made it to the last week of the golf calendar.

Surprisingly, not many of you are clamoring for up-to-the-second results from the Asian Tour’s Dubai Open, so in the absence of any notable tournament, here’s a recap from the most significant event in our little Golf Channel digital world: the third annual Red Solo Cup, which was held last week in beautif  … well, let’s just say it was held last week in Howey-in-the-Hills, Fla.

The RSC is a spirited one-day competition that pits 16 GolfChannel.com writers, editors and video wizards in a battle for a makeshift, alcohol-stained trophy. The format for our little shindig at Mission Inn Resort was nine holes best ball, nine holes singles, and each of the past two years the matches have gone down to either the last pairing or a sudden-death playoff. Indeed, the winner is usually decided by which team wants it less or chokes the least, and our 18th-hole chop-fest serves as an annual reminder that we should always think twice before criticizing a professional athlete for crumbling under the pressure of playing for a $1 million payday.

Anyway, the Red Solo Cup once again proved to be golf’s fifth (or fiftieth) major. Several players pumped their opening tee balls into the wilderness. Others gagged over 3-footers. A nagging hangover crippled at least two team members. And when it was mercifully over, Team Coffin held on for a 6 ½ to 5 ½ victory. Managing editor Mercer Baggs, who went 2-0, was named Most Valuable Player – or the one who stunk the least when it mattered most.

Saddled with a slumping partner, I lost the team portion of the matches, then rallied to take down the previously undefeated Bailey Mosier – or, as she was briefly known on Twitter, “Bogey Bailey” – in afternoon singles, 3 and 2.

Alas, it still wasn’t enough to lead my side to victory, and Team Coffin celebrated in the clubhouse by snapping 46 blurry photos and drinking Guinness out of the trophy. Except the joke was on them – two days later, their captain revealed he had pneumonia.

The Red Solo Cup was the final leg of our two-day off-site retreat during which we discussed our successes/failures, talked smack about each other’s golf games and, eventually, developed a plan of attack for next year. So thank you, loyal reader, for pushing us to new heights in 2014. We’re excited about what lies ahead.

Without further ado, here are your questions for the year-ending edition of the #AskLav mailbag:

To my semi-trained eye, his swing looked markedly improved. He had a weaker grip, a wider base at setup, and more speed and power through the ball. That’s something that had been lacking over the past few years, when his clubhead speed dipped to 115 mph while dealing with his back injury. (By comparison, in 2008, the last year he won a major, he topped out at 124.6 mph.) I have no idea whether this new-look swing will lead to lower scores, or if his brittle body will even be able to withstand the wear and tear of a full season, but the early returns at the World Challenge were promising. His full swing looked great. His short game, not so much.


 

Well, let’s break this down into two questions. Though the PGA Tour has never been deeper or more competitive, Tiger still has more than enough firepower to win at least one event next year. And yes, while swing changes take time, Woods should still be full steam ahead by summertime, given that he’s reverting to old motor patterns and not starting from scratch. As for the major question: It would be a surprise if he won No. 15 in '15. The first three majors of the season set up particularly well for Rory and his power draw, and Whistling Straits isn’t a venue on which Tiger has traditionally fared well (no top 20s in two tries). A successful 2015 season would include a win and a few chances in the majors.


 

Well, you must not have been listening very closely. Actually, what I said was that I was fading the idea of Tiger Era Expectations – or the assumption that Woods can still four or five times a year, including a major. Those days are over. He’s entering his age-39 season, he’s coming off major back surgery, he’s on his third swing coach since 2010 and now he’s dealing with the chipping yips. He couldn’t afford that lost year in 2014, not at his age and not with that ideal slate of major venues. Embrace the new reality that there are better, younger players on Tour, and that Tiger’s best might not always be good enough. I’d argue that his race against Father Time and history – not to mention the Rorys, Rickies and Jordans of the PGA Tour – is the most compelling battle in all of sports.


 

Easy: Rory McIlroy. The kid has shown what he can do there, throwing down an opening 63 in 2010 en route to a T-3 finish. Plus, he didn’t look too shabby while shooting rounds of 64-68 on the Old Course during the Dunhill Links in October. If the weather is decent next July, McIlroy will be a monster favorite at St. Andrews. His driving ability gives him a massive advantage, and the huge, flat greens place an emphasis on lag putting, one of his strengths. After spending the past few years unable to solve the riddle that is links golf, Rory is now positioned to go back-to-back.   


 

Wait, we aren’t there already? That’s not to suggest that Rory is as popular among the mainstream sports audience as Tiger, but in our little golf media world there’s both a want and a need to document each and every one of his rounds across the globe – whether that’s a 64 or a 74. Adding to the intrigue for McIlroy next year is his impending court case against his former management company, slated for February, in which unflattering details are likely to emerge. As the new No. 1 in the men’s game, Rory is being thrust under the same microscope that Tiger has spent his past 20 years. That won't change anytime soon.


 

Bradley, but only because, quite frankly, he is the better player. Keegan switched to the 40-inch putter two weeks ago at Isleworth and said it was one of the most important tournaments of his career, because he was trying to convince not only fans but also himself that he could handle the move away from the belly putter. (It certainly helped that he finished in a tie for third.) Granted, Bradley made a similar switch at the Memorial, and he spoke just as confidently, but his comments at the World Challenge seemed to indicate that he’s converted for good.


Who wins a major first: Spieth or Fowler? – @mattieb1976, via Instagram

Right now, I think Rickie is better equipped to win a major. Spieth is arguably the hottest player in the game, and he’ll continue to roll in 2015 if his driver and putter cooperate. But with top 5s in all four majors this season, Rickie has experienced what it’s like to be a factor on major Sundays, and the sharpness of his tee-to-green game gives him an opportunity to factor more often. Obviously, both players are more than talented enough to win one in 2015, but Rickie’s big-game experience gives him an edge, however slight.

Getty Images

Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

Getty Images

Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.


Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years


And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

Getty Images

CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

Getty Images

Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."