Getty Images

More than form, Garcia brings the Ryder Cup intangibles

By Will GraySeptember 26, 2018, 10:55 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Among the eight men who arrived at the Ryder Cup thanks to a captain’s pick, Tiger Woods will garner the most attention. Ian Poulter will receive the most raucous applause. But with his on-course credentials suddenly lacking, it’s Sergio Garcia who is under the biggest microscope.

The Spaniard boasts an impressive resume in the biennial matches, having stormed onto the scene at Brookline in 1999 and has returned seven times since. But after enduring one of the most difficult seasons of his career, even he had doubts about whether he’d have a spot this week at Le Golf National.

Let Garcia explain it and suddenly the Ryder Cup takes on the form of an ethereal being.

“You know, when things don’t go exactly as you plan or as you want it, and you are playing a lot in the summer and you keep missing cuts by one, it feels like it’s kind of getting a little farther away,” Garcia said. “You still kind of see it, but it starts to get too far away, and you want it to come back.”

Surely when Garcia left Augusta National wearing a green jacket last April, his standing on Team Europe was anything but in doubt. So, too, when he won in January in Singapore to return to the top 10 in the world rankings.


Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


But then there was his Masters title defense, complete with a cringe-inducing 13 on the 15th hole in the opening round. He missed that cut, then the U.S. Open cut as well. By the time he slammed the trunk at Bellerive he had missed five straight major cuts and was en route to missing the FedExCup Playoffs for the first time in his career.

The form that guided him to a career year in 2017 had vanished in a matter of weeks, leaving his Paris plans in limbo as Thomas Bjorn combed through worthy candidates with only four picks at his disposal.

But the burly Dane ended up adding Garcia to his roster, giving him a chance to build upon his impressive 19-11-7 individual record. Although according to Bjorn, Garcia’s spot on the squad was as much for what he can do in the team room as how he might perform on the course in front of thousands of fans.

“I think just everyone loves Sergio, at least in our team room. He has been the heartbeat of our team for a while, and he has been a constant,” said Rory McIlroy. “He never lets the environment or the atmosphere get too serious, and I think that’s one of the big things about European Ryder Cups over the past few years.”

Nearly two decades removed from his breakthrough duel with Tiger Woods at the 1999 PGA Championship, Garcia has experienced on-course lows before. His form also disappeared in 2010, when he was relegated to a vice-captain role on Colin Montgomerie’s victorious team at Celtic Manor.

But since returning to an elite level, it’s never been quite as lean as it was this summer. Garcia missed seven of 11 cuts through the heart of the season, with a T-8 finish at this week’s venue during the French Open proving to be a lone bright spot.

After he was selected by Bjorn earlier this month, Garcia opted to add last week’s Portugal Masters to his schedule to ensure he didn’t enter the matches off a six-week layoff. That trip netted a T-7 finish, offering some promise that perhaps he would be able to bring some game with him to Paris. But it still left him 28th in the world rankings, behind every American participant and ahead of only Ian Poulter and Thorbjorn Olesen among his European teammates.

Garcia’s spotty 2018 led some to draw parallels to 2016, when Darren Clarke selected Lee Westwood for his veteran presence and despite a lack of recent form. That selection backfired in grand fashion, as Westwood went 0-3 including a missed 3-footer on the last green of his Saturday fourball match that cost the Euros half a point.

But Garcia doesn’t appear to have any apprehension about how he fits on the team this week, a veteran presence on a squad that boasts five rookies. In fact, the lack of apprehension is apparently one of his strongest attributes amid one of the biggest pressure-cookers the game has to offer.

It has also helped Garcia to embrace a role that will extend beyond his win-loss record.

“I think that probably, to be totally honest, is one of the reasons why the vice captains and the captain decided to have me on the team,” Garcia said. “What I’m going to do is just do what I do best, and try to make sure that everyone feels good, comfortable, happy, enjoying themselves. And if we can do that, then it’s much easier for everyone to play their best game.”

Once the youthful visage of the next generation, Garcia is now one of the elder statesmen for the Europeans. His presence here bridges a gap between eras, considering he faced American captain Jim Furyk during singles play in his 1999 debut.

But while the hair may have thinned and the face might bear a few extra creases, Garcia retains a familiar twinkle in his eye whenever the Ryder Cup is at stake. It’s visible again this week, even if the heartbeat of the home team ends up making his biggest impact behind closed doors.

Getty Images

Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

Getty Images

Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

Getty Images

Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “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.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

Getty Images

Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: