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If this is it, Prez Cup a fitting swan song for Mickelson

By Will GraySeptember 30, 2017, 9:40 pm

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Under cloudy skies with a brisk breeze starting to sweep across Liberty National Golf Club, Phil Mickelson stood to the side of the 17th green and took it all in.

He and Kevin Kisner had just polished off a closely-contested match against Jhonattan Vegas and Emiliano Grillo. Kisner tugged at his partner’s arm, imploring him to turn around for a quick on-camera interview as the players in the next match approached the putting surface. But Mickelson’s attention was elsewhere.

“Yeah,” Mickelson said. “That’s gonna have to wait.”

And with that, he turned away from one camera lens and toward another. He put one arm around his wife, Amy, and a second around his brother-turned caddie, Tim. The trio was flanked by Mickelson’s two youngest children, 15-year-old Sophia and 14-year-old Evan.

After capping an unbeaten team performance in his 12th – and perhaps final – Presidents Cup appearance, Mickelson had earned a brief reprieve from media obligations. It was picture time.

“My kids are at an age where they appreciate these moments now,” Mickelson said. “They couldn’t understand what it meant when they were little. Now that they’re teenagers, for them to share these moments means a lot to me.”

After 23 straight years representing the U.S. in annual team competitions, Mickelson’s record already has plenty of decoration. He entered this week with more Presidents Cup points than any American, and his win with Kisner Saturday was his record 25th match victory – one more than Tiger Woods.

But the growth of his family over his career serves as a more personal marker of just how much time has passed as the 47-year-old inches closer to the twilight of his playing career.

When Mickelson made his Presidents Cup debut at age 24 in 1994, he was the only player on the U.S. roster under age 30. He played that week on a team captained by Hale Irwin, and he paired three times with Tom Lehman.

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He and Amy were also still two years away from tying the knot, and it would be five more years before Mickelson’s “you’re going to be a father” moment with Payne Stewart on the 18th green at Pinehurst. The same man who teed it up as a bachelor in his team debut couldn’t wait to hug his daughter after Kisner holed the winning 7-footer Saturday.

“I think about it more as experiences rather than records,” Mickelson said. “I have a lot of experiences, and those are the things that I really cherish.”

As he stood there next to his family and basked in the glow of another age-defying performance, it seemed fair to wonder whether this week could be his swan song as a player in this emotionally-charged environment. He insists that making the 2018 Ryder Cup in Paris remains “a big goal,” but he also hasn’t won a tournament in four years and didn’t sniff qualifying automatically for this year’s team.

Father Time remains undefeated, as the assistant captains on either side of the ledger can attest, and Mickelson’s immediate move toward family photo hour may have tipped his hand.

If this weekend is it, he wants to savor the moment with those he loves the most.

“When they look at me like I’m cool, it means a lot,” Mickelson said, locking eyes with Sophia as his voice wavered a hint of emotion. “You know what I mean. As a dad, when your kids look at you a certain way, it means a lot.”

While his inclusion on this week’s team wasn’t much of a surprise, his ability to contribute was hardly a sure thing. Mickelson struggled for much of the summer, enduring a caddie switch and missed cuts in the season’s final two majors.

But on cue, he seems to bring out his best stuff in team match-play settings, regardless of incoming form. In fact, his record in the last three team competitions – two of which saw him added as a captain’s pick – is now a stout 7-1-3.

This time he took Kisner under his wing as a rookie, and the two combined for a 2-0-1 record. It was an unexpected mix of a California product and a self-described “South Carolina redneck,” but one that oozed confidence from the start.

“Having been able to come down the stretch with him, and to see how well he performs under the gun, is unbelievable,” Kisner said. “I’ll always look back and think about who I played with. Nobody can ever take that from me. I played with a Hall-of-Famer, and we did great together. No matter what happens in my future, that will always be something I look at.”

Kisner is simply the latest player who can attest to the rejuvenating effect team match play has on Mickelson, a lengthy list that includes everyone from Jay Haas to Anthony Kim. The pair offered one of the highlights of the tournament with an impromptu “Three Amigos” dance after Mickelson clinched their Friday fourballs win.

“They’ve been giggling the entire time,” Amy Mickelson said. “Giggles for a week, these two.”

Asked to assess his partner’s performance after seeing it up close and personal for three straight days, Kisner simply shook his head and offered a wry grin.

“If Bones was still caddying, I’d really be spinning. But at least Tim is just like, ‘Whatever,’” Kisner said. “They’re going through ‘Pelz’ and draws, and trying to hit 126 (yards). I’m like, ‘Man, it’s blowing 30 (mph) and it’s 40 degrees. Who knows how far you’re going to hit it?’ Then he hits it to 4 feet, and I can’t say anything about it.”

Such is the magic Mickelson seems to conjure simply by showing up and donning the red, white and blue.

After putting another point on the board, and before embarking on an afternoon as cheerleader and selfie star with Kisner and Rickie Fowler, Mickelson rode the wave of his latest performance and posed with family to commemorate the occasion.

“Maybe towards the end I’ll look back, and I’ll look back at the highlights and the many moments,” Mickelson said. “But right now, I’m just trying to create more.”

He’ll have another chance to do just that during Sunday’s singles session, with the outcome of this Presidents Cup no longer in doubt, and perhaps a few more in the years to come. But should his participation streak fail to reach Year 24, should the shadow of Lady Liberty be the last place he hits a shot for his country, this would certainly serve as a fitting conclusion.

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.

The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”


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Nelson win moves Wise to 12th in Ryder Cup race

By Will GrayMay 21, 2018, 7:12 pm

Aaron Wise received plenty of perks with his title Sunday at the AT&T Byron Nelson, but the victory also brought with it a healthy bump in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings.

The 21-year-old notched his maiden win at Trinity Forest in impressive fashion, holding off Marc Leishman in near-darkness. After starting the week at No. 46 in the points race for Paris, Wise is now all the way up to 12th with the top eight players after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically for the team.

Jimmy Walker moved from 18th to 15th with a top-10 finish in Dallas, while an idle Tiger Woods dropped one position to No. 32.

Here's a look at the updated standings, as the top 11 names remained in order this week:

1. Patrick Reed

2. Justin Thomas

3. Dustin Johnson

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Bubba Watson

6. Rickie Fowler

7. Brooks Koepka

8. Phil Mickelson


9. Webb Simpson

10. Matt Kuchar

11. Brian Harman

12. Aaron Wise

It was also a quiet week on the European side of the race, where the top four from both the European Points and World Points list in August will join a roster rounded out by four selections from captain Thomas Bjorn.

Here's a look at the latest European standings:

European Points

1. Tyrrell Hatton

2. Justin Rose

3. Jon Rahm

4. Ross Fisher


5. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Rory McIlroy

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Alex Noren


5. Ian Poulter