#AskLav: Swinging from Florida into Augusta

By Ryan LavnerMarch 27, 2014, 12:50 pm

Maybe I’ve temporarily lost my fastball, but this week I found it difficult to get fired up about Adam Scott’s collapse, Tiger Woods’ back or the Texas Two-Step. That tends to happen after losing a friend. 

I worked with Ron Balicki for 2 ½ years while at Golfweek. Man, the guy was a legend. At tournaments, young players would sign their card and go seek him out to talk. Coaches confided in him. Everyone gravitated to his kindness. When hotshot collegian Rickie Fowler announced that he was turning pro, the one and only reporter he called was Ron.

He loved telling their stories, and he did so with compassion. Zeal. Warmth. In 2010, he became the first non-coach to be inducted into the Golf Coaches Hall of Fame. In truth, he could have gone in two decades earlier without objection.

Ron died earlier this week at his Arkansas home. His mind was strong, but he had grown weak after battling cancer. He was only 65.

The only thing that Ron loved more than covering college golf was the people involved in the game. Superstars from powerhouse teams or benchwarmers from Division-III schools, it didn’t matter. If you had a story, Ron wanted to share it.

Covering this year’s NCAA Championship will be strange, no doubt. All of us will miss that familiar, raspy voice – Riiiight, riiiight – when talking to players, coaches, officials, parents.

This would have been Ron’s 30th consecutive NCAA final, and it was always one of the highlights of his year. The man was college golf. It’ll never be the same. 

Now, this week’s mailbag:


Only three players – Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979, Gene Sarazen in 1935 and Horton Smith in 1934 – have ever won the Masters in their first apperance, but it would surprise little if Patrick Reed found himself in contention on the weekend at the Masters. He’s in familiar environs, he played the course as an amateur, and he’s unlikely to be fazed by the pomp and circumstance that usually derails Masters rookies. Many can recite the fact that Reed has won three of his last 15 starts, but it’s worth noting, too, that those victories are his only top 10s during that span. He’s the definition of a hit-or-miss talent, and his major debut could prove a home run if everything clicks.



Smart question, but don’t forget that there is a greater importance to the Official World Ranking than simply determining the No. 1 player in the world. It’s also used, among other things, to set the fields for majors; the top 50 after this week’s Valero Texas Open earns a spot in this year’s Masters.

But, since you asked, a two-year period is a better indicator of a player’s general form, through good times and bad, and one win will always be more valuable than eight missed cuts. Prior to this year, Tiger had won eight times in the past two seasons, far more than any other player, which is why he had such a big cushion atop the rankings. After some shoddy play, though, he’s now on the verge of losing his No. 1 spot by late March. There still is volatility. Seems fair to me. 



Back injuries can be funny, and not in the ha-ha sense. They can act up at any time, without warning, even after being cleared by a doctor. Tiger could play pain-free for the rest of the year … or he could hit his opening tee shot at Augusta, keel over and shut it down for the rest of the season. The only way that Woods will skip the Masters is if he deems the risk of re-injury too great, which certainly is possible. He has never missed the year’s first major, even when his personal life was in tatters, but if he does now then we’ll know that his injury is far more serious than he’s letting on. 

Instagram#AskLav: Is the par-3 12th at Augusta the hardest par 3 in major tournament play? And why? Swirling winds or the pressure of the moment? – Mike Hallee, via Instagram

Absolutely. The 12th is far narrower than it appears on television, so any gust of wind or surge of adrenaline could send a tee ball either into the back bunker or Rae’s Creek. That tee shot – with only a pitching wedge or 9-iron – demands a surgeon’s precision, which is no easy task on Sunday afternoon with a green jacket at stake. 



Considering that the R&A was a male-only institution for 260 years, that it didn’t previously yield to political and social pressure, golf fans should simply be glad that it appears set to open its doors to women. Finally. In the future – whether that is in five, 10, 50, 100 years – there seems little doubt that the private clubs will eventually invite women to join, that the R&A will sponsor a women’s amateur event, etc. This was a massive leap, the Advil for a p.r. headache, but let’s take it one step at a time. 

Instagram#AskLav: Will this kidney stone I’m passing help with my right-to-left trajectory? – Stantonit, via Instagram

Well, um, after the excruciating pain passes, a better option might be closing your feet line. 

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Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated” while taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor, he made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).

Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.

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Van Rooyen continues links run with impressive 67

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:27 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For Erik van Rooyen familiarity has not bred contempt.

The South African, like many European Tour players, has been on a links golf odyssey the last three weeks, playing the Irish Open, Scottish Open and this week’s Open Championship in consecutive weeks, and the crash course paid off on Day 1 at Carnoustie when he opened with a 4-under 67 to assure himself a spot among the early leaders.

Although van Rooyen missed the cut last week just down the coast at Gullane Golf Club, he entered the final round in Ireland with a four-stroke lead.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't pull it off the final day,” said van Rooyen, who closed with a 74 to tie for fourth place. “I still think I played pretty well. I was nervous. That's completely normal, and I'll learn how to deal with that. I'll take that experience into tournaments like this.”

Van Rooyen, who was alone in second place when he completed his round, began his round with back-to-back birdies and was bogey-free until the last hole. It was just what one would expect from a player who has immersed himself in links golf for the better part of a month.

“We've been playing nice golf now the last three weeks, so definitely used to the way this course is playing, definitely used to handling the wind,” he said. “So I'll be ready.”