Sometimes a win is just a tweak away

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 6, 2016, 8:33 pm

CARMEL, Ind. – Rory McIlroy’s victory Monday at the Deutsche Bank Championship was the latest reminder of how quickly fortunes can change – and why PGA Tour players are usually just one swing tip, putting tweak or positive thought from surging into contention.

That’s the only way to explain how McIlroy went from being nearly dead last in putting two weeks ago to pacing the field in Boston.

Or how Vaughn Taylor went 10 ½ years without a win, and was 11 days removed from a visit to a Colombia hospital, when he broke through in February at Pebble Beach.

Or how James Hahn overcame eight consecutive missed cuts to win at Quail Hollow.

Or how Billy Hurley III went nine months without a top-40 finish before rolling at Congressional.

Or how Jimmy Walker went 11 straight tournaments without a top-10 before a wire-to-wire victory at the PGA.

“It always feels like you’re just trying to dial it in,” Taylor said Tuesday at the BMW Championship. “Sometimes it’s a little thing, and other times it feels like you’re miles away from playing good. It’s a funny game, so you just keep working and hope for that moment where it all comes together.”

McIlroy’s victory wasn’t all that unexpected – after all, he’s the third-ranked player in the world with off-the-charts ball-striking statistics – but it still registered as a mild surprise, if only because of his recent putting woes. In his previous seven rounds, he’d missed 23 putts inside 10 feet and lost more than 10 shots to the field on the greens. He turned to putting coach Phil Kenyon for help and began a process that he hoped would be completed in time for next year’s Masters.


BMW Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Suffice to say, the early returns have been encouraging. In his last three rounds, he missed only four times inside 10 feet and gained nearly 5 ½ shots on the greens. The turnaround was as simple, he said, as holding the putter grip more in his fingers, with his right hand on top of the handle. He implemented the slight change on the practice green the morning of his second round, and it allowed him to release the putter, instead of blocking his putts. Three days later, he won for the first time on Tour in 15 months.

“It’s just incredible,” he said, “this game, how quickly things can change and how quickly things can turn around.”

There are similar comeback stories from the Tour’s middle class.

Playing on past champion’s status from his pair of opposite-field victories a decade ago, Taylor had two missed cuts and a withdrawal (the aforementioned hospital visit) in his last three starts entering Pebble. But on the range, he stumbled upon his swing thought for the week: He tried to feel as though he was laying the club off at the top.

“You hit a shot here or there and you say, ‘Oh, that was it; that’s what I’m looking for,’” Taylor said. “From there, it’s usually a lot of variables coming together at the same time.”

Crucial putts need to be holed. Nerves need to be steadied. And in Taylor’s case, a Hall of Famer needed to falter, as he overcame a six-shot, final-round deficit to Phil Mickelson.

It turns out that swing thought was a short-term fix, not a long-term solution. He missed his next five cuts, and seven of his next nine.

“It lasted long enough,” he said with a smile, “and then you’re on to find something else.

Hurley, whose slump-busting victory came at one of the most demanding courses on Tour (Congressional), said that he runs through about 15 to 20 swing thoughts a year, as he chases what works and dumps whatever does not. He even jots down the various tips in a journal.

“It’s one of the best parts about our game and one of the most maddening parts about our game all at the same time,” he said. “It doesn’t take much just to find that little feeling, that little switch that just makes it all feel right and the ball starts going where you’re looking, putts start dropping and you have a great week.”

When Brian Stuard arrived in New Orleans for the Zurich Classic, he’d gone 35 consecutive starts without a top-10. But he wasn’t distraught. He had worked the past few weeks on moving on to his left side through impact, and he said he saw enough positive signs the previous week (a T-55 in San Antonio) to believe that he was due for a “good finish,” whatever that meant.

Even though Stuard was winless in 100 career appearances on the Web.com and PGA tours, he sensed early on that it might be his week in New Orleans. In the opening round, he should have dropped at least one shot after his approach shot on the 12th hole wound up in a nasty spot left of the green. He tried to limit the damage, chopping out to 30 feet behind the hole, but he holed the comebacker for par. Walking off the green, Stuard said, “I thought, Hey, this might be a good omen.”

Stuard ended up winning the rain-shortened event.

“Golf to me is weird,” he said, “because if you get that one mental key, it seems to be able to last a tournament, but you can’t keep it going for the whole year. It just seems like if you change something, it must be the positive vibes it gives you.”

Hahn followed that out-of-nowhere script when he won in Charlotte. Even though he’d missed eight cuts in a row, he reviewed the stats and didn’t find any glaring weakness.

“It was just a combination of one putt, one drive, one bad hole, one mud ball, one bad break that kind of snowballed into a couple bogeys and missed cuts,” he said earlier this year.

“The competition out here is so high that you can afford to make mistakes, but you can’t afford to make many of them.”

Players like McIlroy have a bit more leeway, because their tee-to-green performance is so dominant, but even for the stars there is a fine line between a victory and another top-10.

Sure, part of that is because of the deep competition. But it also boils down to a few breaks: tee shots that appear destined for the rough but kick back into the fairway, or approaches that spin closer to the hole, thus increasing a player’s make percentage.

The lesson here: At this level, players are never as far away as they can seem. 

“You’re always evolving,” Taylor said. “You just always have to see the end goal and the end vision and try to stay patient.”

Getty Images

Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.


Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic


The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

Getty Images

Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.


Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters


''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

Getty Images

Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

Getty Images

Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.


Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.