Winsday Hot List: Gearing up for major season

By Win McMurryApril 3, 2013, 9:51 pm

We've been waiting for this week (and next) all winter and it's finally here. Spring has sprung! On the PGA Tour it's the second of four Texas swing events but more importantly the last tournament before the Masters.

On the LPGA it's the first major of the year. So with major championships the focus of golfers throughout the world this week, we break down what's Hot before we take the drive down Magnolia Lane.

1. D.A. Points: He received one of the last invitations to the Masters with his win at the Shell Houston Open. Of course the victory is what's important, but I'd reckon the invite is almost as up there as the money he received (as well as the playing exemption) from the win.


2. Michael Jordan: This is his week as he gathers some forty-odd celebrities (myself included) to play in his 13th annual charity golf tournament. Held at Shadow Creek in Las Vegas, I'll be teeing it up with the likes of Michael Phelps, Chevy Chase, and Charlie Rymer's favorite, Adrian Young – the drummer from No Doubt. It's definitely a crazy and eclectic bunch! By the way, Dustin Johnson is doing his pre-Masters tune-up there as well … so it's not just all fun and games!


3. Valero Texas Open: Win and you're in! That's the motto this week for any player not yet invited to the Masters who is teeing it up at the Valero Texas Open. In the midst of March Madness, who doesn't love a Cinderella Story?! Those key names vying for entry include Charlie Beljan, Bud Cauley, Jordan Speith, and Cameron Tringale. My vote is Tringale.


4. Bubba Watson: Not only will he be defending his Masters title and hosting the Champions' Dinner next week, but he is in the news for bringing you the hovercraft golf cart in conjunction with Oakley.


5. Majors: This is the first major of the year – the Kraft Nabisco Championship – and the ladies are ready to pounce – or I should say jump. That Includes new world no. 1 Stacy Lewis who picked up her one and only major here two years ago.


6. Final Four: This past Sunday as the NCAA tournament was whittled down to the Final Four, four players made the invitation list to the 2013 Masters. Henrik Stenson, Freddie Jacobson and Richard Sterne joined D.A. Points in the Augusta field by getting inside the top-50 in the world rankings.


7. Dufnering: This trend is still running strong after Jason Dufner unintentionally made headlines and created a social media frenzy after relaxing in a very bizarre pose during an event for the Byron Nelson Championship. Dufnering photos have been taken through the world, including at the Taj Mahal in India.


8. Holly Sonders: Major props to my co-worker who definitely deserves a nod on the Hot List this week for her photos in Golf Digest magazine. Just take a look. Enough said.


9. Sean Foley: It's been a good season to say the least for the players in Foley's stable, including not only Tiger Woods, but Justin Rose who finished runner-up to the world's new No. 1 player at Bay Hill. If you're debating between favorites at the Masters, I'd take someone on Team Foley.


10. Ian Poulter: The marketing machine is my dark horse to beat at Augusta (along with Adam Scott) and his company IJP Designs has come out with limited edition putter head covers for the year's first major. Masters green adorned with azaleas, does it get any more iconic than that?

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Alternate shot to be used Sunday at Zurich

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 6:41 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Tournament officials made a slight tweak to the format for this year’s Zurich Classic.

Instead of having the two-man teams compete in fourballs (best ball) during the final round, players will now play alternate shot on Sunday.

That means fewer birdies and roars, but the Tour is hoping that the move will create more volatility – teams won’t be able to run away from the pack with another round in the low-60s.

Jonas Blixt and Cameron Smith teamed up to win last year’s event at 27 under. Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown fired a 60 on Sunday to force a playoff, but for much of the day it was a two-team race.

“There could be volatility,” Jim Furyk said. “It just might come in a different fashion.”

“There’ll be a lot more hold-on as opposed to catch-up,” David Duval said.

Fourballs will be played during the first and third rounds, while the alternate-shot format is used Friday and Sunday. That also eases some of the concerns from last year, because now players can ease into the flow of the tournament by playing best ball first.

“It’s a little more comfortable, with two balls in play,” Furyk said.

One of the drawbacks? The Zurich has its best field in tournament history, with 10 of the top 14 players in the world, and those stars will only hit half the shots on Sunday. That’s not ideal for either the fans at TPC Louisiana or those watching at home.

“That’s sort of a bummer,” Billy Horschel said. “They had success last year, but they’re trying to make a little tweak and see if it’s any better. If not, they can go back to the old way.”

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Path down the not-so straight and narrow

By Brandel ChambleeApril 24, 2018, 6:30 pm

Try as I might, I can’t remember a single one of my professors at the University of Texas asking me what we would like to be tested on. What I would have given if my freshman classical lit teacher, Miss Gross (really her name), had asked if we preferred Hemingway, the master of the short story, to the Russian novelist who apparently got paid by the word, Leo Tolstoy. The innate laziness of students, individual bias and consensus, as it turns out, runs counter to the academic goals of professors and Miss Gross had the temerity to think she knew better than her students what curriculum would be appropriate for a proper education.

She was right, of course, but “consensus” has become much more en vogue, as the world via social media bows to groupthink. This has become more evident in universities, politics and even golf, where the game has become almost unrecognizable from what it once was. 

The top-five players in the world (Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Justin Rose) rank 128th, 126th, 108th, 127th and 100th, respectively, in driving accuracy. The top-five players in the world are pitiful at what Ben Hogan called the single most important shot in golf. Hogan looked at his target through a scope, these players use a scattergun. Yes, I know we now have something called strokes gained: off the tee, but given the current status of the game that is just a metric to tell us who the longest, straightest, most crooked players are. 

The hardest thing to do in golf is to hit the ball long AND straight. 



Hogan not only understood this, he obsessed over the idea and spent a lifetime building a golf swing that allowed him to hit the ball as far as he could and as straight as he possibly could. His only metric was the ribbon width fairway of a U.S. Open. The reason Hogan would be sick to his stomach if he walked up and down the ranges of PGA Tour events today is because many of the golf swings are built for half of this equation, to hit the ball long. In fairness this is not the player’s fault, at least not as far as they know. 

The most popular golf course architect remains Alister MacKenzie, a man who died over 80 years ago. MacKenzie’s guiding philosophy was to build courses that brought the greatest pleasure to the greatest number and his work, aesthetic gems like Cypress Point and Augusta National, built on ocean cliffs and on a former nursery farm, have gained immense and lasting fame. 

But perhaps more enduring, and I argue more damaging to the professional game, is his philosophy of design to appeal to the greatest number. 

Wanting to imitate links golf, MacKenzie favored little rough, few fairway bunkers, the imitation of nature for aesthetic appeal and rolling greens and surrounds. Testing professional golfers was never the primary objective. Understandable given that when MacKenzie was designing golf courses the game was, besides being much harder than it is now, relatively new in the United States. Making it more popular was the goal. 

Players, professional and amateur, loved the forgiving nature of his designs, and budding architects wanting to imitate MacKenzie’s work, adopted philosophies along similar lines. To this day when having a debate with a group of Tour players or golf course architect nerds, the consensus will be to have little or graduated rough off of the tee, “to allow for the recovery” they will say, followed by “to give the greatest pleasure to the greatest number.”

The year MacKenzie died, 1934, was notable: it was the year what is now called the Masters began, it was the first year the PGA Tour began recognizing the leading money winner and, far less widely known, it was the first year of a three-and-a-half decade reign for Joseph C. Dey as executive director of the USGA.

“From the moment I met him I could tell he was in charge of the game of golf,” Jack Nicklaus once said about Dey.

Dey shepherded golf in the United States and almost single-handedly instituted a uniform code of rules for the USGA and the R&A and helped start five USGA championships and four international team competitions. Beyond that, he was the man in charge of setting up the courses for the U.S. Open. 

His course setups were not built around consensus, they were driven by one simple overriding philosophy: to find the one player who was most in control of his emotions, mind and golf shots. U.S. Opens were often punishing to the best players and unforgiving, both off of the tee and around the green. There was no thought to the recovery, which is by definition bowing to the next shot. U.S. Opens were about great execution of the shot at hand, right here and now. The demands of precision were intimidating but they made the best players think. Hogan, in particular, thought longer and harder than anyone about the demands of a U.S. Open, and conquering them. 

Hogan had a Euclidean determination to build a golf swing that would withstand the greatest pressure in the game, U.S. Open pressure. What he built was an immaculate marriage of tenacity and technique, a swing that transfigured the game and remains the single most compelling example of beauty in golf. Now try to imagine what his swing would have looked like if driving the ball straight were of very little importance.

Sure Hogan gets credit for building the golf swing, but Dey should get the assist. If the executive director of the USGA had sought a consensus and conferred with the players, it’s doubtful that his setups would have been as demanding. Necessity being the mother of invention though, Hogan invented something nobody had ever seen before or since. 



Which brings me back to the state of the game today, where players flail away with impunity off of the tee, claiming to be great drivers of the ball because of something called strokes gained: off of the tee. The implications here are far reaching, far more than just being able to scatter shots all over a course and still win. 

Because golf course setups have become far more forgiving – owing to the MacKenzie philosophy, incessant complaints and suggestions of the players and to the social media chorus that we want more birdies ­– players seek to launch shots as high as they can, with as little spin as they can, with as long of a driver as they can handle. Distance has become a means to an end so much, that many are crying for a roll back of the ball when all that needs to happen is to roll back to an era when one man had the guts and the acuity to not listen to the players, or the pervading philosophy of fairness.

Imagine if the U.S. Open and several other events returned to this demanding philosophy. Players out of necessity would choose balls that spun more, heads that were smaller so they could shape shots, shots that would start lower for more control and golf swings would evolve to find the balance of distance and accuracy. In time an athlete would come along who could solve the puzzle of how to hit the ball far and straight. 

Players are not hitting the ball so far today because that’s the way the game is going, they are doing so because the set ups of golf courses do not make them think. 

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Finau returns to action 3 weeks after Masters injury

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 6:22 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Nearly three weeks have passed since Tony Finau suffered a gruesome high-ankle sprain while celebrating a hole-in-one at the Masters.

And to some surprise, he’s already back on the course.

Finau was on the range at TPC Louisiana on Tuesday morning, preparing to return to competition alongside fellow Utah resident Daniel Summerhays at the Zurich Classic. After a half-hour warmup session in which he was able to shift into his left side, he walked slowly but without a limp.

“The only way we’re going to know where we’re at with the mobility is to continue to do what my foot normally does – and that’s walking and playing golf,” he said. “With this golf course and the setup of the tournament” – a flat course, with two days of alternate shot – “what better way to gauge where we’re at than by playing this tournament?”

Finau said that he mostly tried to stay off his injured ankle and foot the week after the Masters. Last week was more physical therapy and strength training, to test his limits. He’s been working with the Utah Jazz trainers, as well as the physical therapists at the University of Utah Orthopedic Center, to return to the Tour as quickly as possible.

“The journey is far from over as far as dealing with the foot,” he said. “I’ve dealt with ankle injuries before, and they can linger. I don’t think it’s going to be 100 percent for a while, but I do feel like it’s ready to go and play and compete and continue to get better as I do that.”


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Finau said he was shocked by the amount of support he received after his fluke injury in the Par 3 Contest – “A lot of guys who I didn’t know had my number reached out” – and that he only posted the gruesome photos of his leg after the Masters, so that fans knew what he endured to tie for 10th (including a Sunday 66) in his first start at Augusta.    

“I didn’t want anybody to think that I had excuses,” he said. “I’m there to play. I was ready to play once my tee time came around. Obviously people knew the scenario I was dealing with, but after the fact people could respect the process I had to go through throughout the week, during the round, after the round, taping it, and then seeing the condition it was in.

“Hopefully people were able to respect what I was able to do with limited action on my left side.”  

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Longtime pals Furyk, Duval the 'rustiest' Zurich team

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 5:58 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Jim Furyk and David Duval are the winningest two-man team here at the Zurich Classic, combining for 30 PGA Tour titles during their careers.

These days, they’re also known for something else.

“We’re probably the rustiest team in the field,” Duval said with a laugh Tuesday. “Certainly the least rounds played.”

Of the 80 teams in the field at TPC Louisiana, the Furyk-Duval partnership may have raised the most eyebrows.

Furyk, 47, has scaled back his schedule over the past few years, after dealing with a variety of injuries. As the U.S. Ryder Cup captain, he also has more on his mind than choosing clubs and reading greens. Duval, 46, has made only 11 Tour starts since 2014, transitioning instead to the broadcast booth.


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And yet they’re here, together, paired for just the second time in a Tour event. Furyk found that hard to believe. Of the dozens of rounds these two aging warriors have played over the past two-plus decades, they teed it up together in only one Tour event – the 2002 Invensys Classic at Las Vegas.

“I know we played a lot on Mondays and Tuesdays,” Furyk said. “So playing in a tournament, that’s going back 15 years ago. I can’t remember last week who I played with, so …”

More vivid are his memories of their time together on what was then known as the Nike Tour.

“We had a span there where I think we played eight to 10 weeks in a row and we played practice rounds together,” Furyk said.

Duval mentioned the idea of teaming up at the Zurich last year, and Furyk accepted. This is just a one-off, a chance for old friends to reconnect, even if their own expectations are low.  

“When the folks out there go play golf, their idea of golf is hanging out with their buddies, right? Folks that they love playing golf with, enjoy being around,” Furyk said. “That’s what this event gives us. To get back together is really what it’s all about.”