Well the first round of the FedEx Cup playoffs is over and Tiger Woods once again looked human, missing a chance to win the tournament by whiffing a putt on 18. C'mon, I know you have questions -- about both the Barclays and the upcoming Deutsche Bank. Leave them in the comments area below and we'll get to them Tuesday in the mailbag.
Archive: August 2009
Nobody knows more about the mind-jarring success of Koreans at golf than Mike Bender, a Golf Magazine Top 100 teacher from Lake Mary, Fla. Indeed, Bender is to top Korean golfers what David Leadbetter was to leading Tour pros 20 years ago -- he is the coach. Bender has two golf academies specifically for his more than 50 top amateur and professional Korean charges. One academy is near Orlando and the other is in Inchon, Korea.
On Sunday evening, I called Bender immediately after Byeong-Hun An, a 17-year-old high-school senior, became the youngest person to win the U.S. Amateur. The Korean victories are piling up at such an astonishing rate -– Jennifer Song at the Women's U.S. Amateur and the U.S. Public Links; Y.E. Yang at the PGA; the legions of women winning LPGA titles, including last week's Safeway Classic -– that I asked Mike to explain what separates Koreans from Americans at golf? Do the Koreans have a different approach to golf?
"You have to look at how the Koreans train,” Mike said. “They train at golf with a very, very high degree of focus from a very young age. Now compare American juniors to Koreans, and you see that the American kids play other sports and have pursuits beyond golf. Not the Koreans. It’s all golf. And the kids just obey their parents, who are always with them so there’s no chance to goof around. Their time at golf is just so focused and methodically planned. The Koreans have an amazing stamina for practicing. They’re always the last ones to leave the course or range.”
Mike continued. “There’s also the education element. Koreans tend to not focus on education, while the Americans put a high degree of importance on education. I believe that if you used the same approach as the Koreans have on American kids, you’d probably see the American kids have similar success.”
The U.S. team for the 2009 Walker Cup has been set, with the addition of Cameron Tringale, 22 and Peter Uihlein, 20.
From the USGA press release:
Tringale and Uihlein are the final two players selected to the USA Team that will compete against 10 amateurs representing Great Britain and Ireland in the 42nd Walker Cup Match, to be played Sept. 12-13 at Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa.
Tim Jackson, 50, of Germantown, Tenn., has been named as the first alternate for the team. Ben Martin, 22, of Greenwood, S.C., will be the second alternate.
The eight players previously named to the USA Team on Aug. 9 are Bud Cauley, Rickie Fowler, Brendan Gielow, Brian Harman, Morgan Hoffmann, Adam Mitchell, Nathan Smith and Drew Weaver. The captain of the USA Team is George “Buddy” MarucciJr.
The USA Team has won the last two Matches, posting one-point victories at Chicago (Ill.) Golf Club in 2005 and at Royal County Down in Newcastle, Ireland, in 2007. The USA leads the series overall, 33-7-1.
An incident in the middle of the first fairway at Liberty National Friday morning shows why.
After making five bogeys through his first eight holes, Mickelson made a 61-foot putt from the fringe on the 18th (his ninth) for a birdie. The crowd roared and high-fives were exchanged as Phil strode to the first tee. He then crushed a 335-yard drive that stopped in the fairway, 51 feet from the pin.
As his playing partners — Kenny Perry and Lucas Glover — sized up their approach shots from near the 100 yard marker, a fan called out to Mickelson, "Hey Phil, I thought you were Kenny!"
Phil turned toward the fan and laughed along with the crowd.
Then, with his left thumb in his pocket, he subtly extended his left middle finger downward and kept laughing.
The fan that had yelled out to him, along with the dozens of fans braving the rain alongside the fairway, exploded in laughter.
Mickelson totally understands and accepts the New York sports culture. He's always played a go-for-broke style that is exciting to watch, and his disappointments (Winged Foot), family challenges (wife Amy's breast cancer) and triumphs (Baltusrol) have humanized him in their eyes. The ribbing on the first hole Friday was good-natured, and Phil knew it. Like the guys at your club, sports fans around here love to jab with athletes they consider friends. By playing along, Mickelson shows that he's one of the guys.
The athletes New Yorkers really don't like are either ignored or taunted. The difference is not subtle — just ask Sergio Garcia.
Mickelson followed that drive up with a stubbed chip that stopped six feet from the hole and his birdie putt missed. What had seemed like the start of a Mickelson run turned out to be a disappointing par.
But regardless of his score, one thing is certain: Whether he's wearing pinstripes (as he did today) or not, Mickelson is an adopted New Yorker.
(Photo by Rich Schultz/AP Photos)
For at least a few moments yesterday at the Omega store in Midtown Manhattan, Sergio Garcia wasn’t thinking about his 15-month winless spell on the PGA Tour, his 0-for-44 run at the majors, or even his freshest wound: the final-round hiccups that cost him the Wyndham Championship last weekend. The scruffy-faced Spaniard was focused on a task so meticulous that it required every ounce of his attention: disassembling a watch.
It was a publicity stunt for Omega, and the golfer was in top pitchman form, beginning with his prompt 11 a.m. arrival at the company’s flagship boutique on 5th Avenue. (Rule No. 1 for watch endorsers: be on time.) After a flurry of handshakes, smooches and photo ops, Garcia was led up two flights of stairs to a tidy laboratory whose white coat-wearing occupants looked more like nuclear scientists than watchmakers. Garcia slipped on a lab coat of his own and pulled up a seat next to the tiny bowels of a high-powered timepiece. Tweezers in one hand, a miniature screwdriver in the other, and a jeweler’s loop clinging to his brow, he dutifully went to work, seemingly unfazed by the boom mike hovering over his head or the swat team of public relations reps crowded around him. Garcia lowered the loop over his right eye and grinned. “It’s a lot easier with this thing, man!” he said.
Garcia proved he can dismantle a watch, but the 29-year-old can’t turn back the clock on what has been a frustrating season for him on the PGA Tour. His listless third-place finish in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday was only his second top-10 finish of the season, and he is a 89th in the FedEx Cup points race as the playoffs kick off this week with the Barclays at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, N.J. “On Sunday I just didn’t feel comfortable,” Garcia told me of the Wyndham. “I never felt like I was in total control of it. I seemed to be trying to hold on [to the lead] the whole time.” It showed. After a hot start, he bogeyed Nos. 8, 11 and 12 and didn’t make a birdie after the seventh hole. His second- and third-round 64s seemed a distant memory.
Just back from one of my favorite events, the Solheim Cup. It’s like the Ryder Cup, minus the excessive hype and commercialism. I went deep on Michelle Wie in my SI game story — which you can read here — but let me add a couple of quick thoughts.
I will be shocked if Wiesy doesn’t win a couple of tournaments before the year is out. The missing ingredients in her game have always been passion and putting, and she discovered both at the Solheim. The more fired-up Wie got the better she played, and if she brings some of that emotion to everyday LPGA events she will be very tough to beat. The biggest hole in her game has always been inconsistent putting, but the week before the Solheim, Wie took a pair of long lessons from Dave Stockton, who won two PGA Championships in his heyday and enjoyed the reputation of one of the greatest putters on the planet. On Sunday I caught Stockton on the phone at home in Cali as he was monitoring the Solheim, and he was positively giddy.
“I’d been hoping she would call me for years,” said Stockton, whose son Ronnie has become a sought-after instructor on the LPGA tour. “At Phoenix this year they showed Michelle practicing and I was yelling at the TV because I felt like everything she was doing was wrong.”
In my SI story I discuss a few of the technical tweaks Stockton made to Wie’s stroke but the biggest change was getting her to stop obsessing about mechanics and start thinking about feel and touch and pace and simply willing the ball into the hole. “People who can’t putt tend to be very mechanical,” Stockton told me. “They can work and work at it but they’re never going to get better, and that was Michelle. Across two days she basically changed her whole approach to putting. I couldn’t believe how fast she picked it up. I couldn’t believe how committed she was.
“I’m watching her play at the Solheim and not only is she making everything but the putts are rolling beautifully, just diving into the hole. I’m sitting here thinking, Ohmygawd, she can be the best player out there. Soon.”
A couple quick Solheim queries and then we’ll move on to the miscellanea.
I know all the press has been going to Wie, but what do you make of Creamer's performance? She seems to have mental blocks like Phil does in majors, but she performed well at the Solheim. Do you think she's due to breakout or have a more Phil-like career trajectory where it takes her a long time before she wins majors?” — John from Austin
I love Creamer, and not just for the obvious reasons. She’s a killer, one of those athletes who wants the ball in their hands when it matters. She was the star of day one at the Solheim and set the tone for the singles with a rousing lead-off victory over the Euro’s putative best player, Suzann Pettersen. In match play Creamer’s fairways-and-greens game wears down opponents, and she makes all the putts that matter. But she is probably the shortest hitter among all the elite LPGA players. That distance disadvantage really hurts on the longer major championship courses. She certainly can’t overwhelm a golf course like Phil, to use the reader’s comparison. Creamer will win a major, and probably a few, but no doubt she’s feeling the pressure to break through, even at the tender age of 23. She seemed tight at all of this year’s majors and often got in her own way, a Phil specialty. Playing for something larger seemed to free up Creamer at the Solheim. Hopefully there will be a carryover into ‘10. A few Creamer-Wie shootouts in the majors would make the LPGA compulsory viewing.
It's that time of the week and I need a fresh batch of questions. So, let's hear it people. I spent last week at the Solheim Cup. What do you want to know about Michelle Wie's breakthrough win? Not to mention the FedEx Cup starts this week. Leave a question or comment below and check back tomorrow for my answers.
The four-time champion was a lock. After all, given a lead heading toward the finish, the man had been well-nigh invincible. Then, the unthinkable happened. He made errors and some bad pitches, and the underdog prevailed thanks to a timely hit.
The Tiger Woods-Y.E. Yang saga at the recent PGA Championship is similar to the storyline of the 2001 World Series, when the New York Yankees and their dominant closer, Mariano Rivera, faltered in Game 7 against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Going for their fifth title in six years, the Bronx Bombers not only lost a game and a Series, but they also relinquished their air of invincibility -- and haven’t regained it. In terms of competitive balance and excitement, it’s the best thing that ever happened to baseball. In the last eight seasons, seven teams have won a World Series, and instead of being a foregone conclusion, each October is a wildly exciting crap shoot.
There’s a lesson here for us golf fans, especially those who believe a major is not worth paying attention to unless Tiger is blowing away the field. The thrilling (and ratings-grabbing) denouement at Hazeltine and the results of the other 2009 majors open a wide world of possibility, and not merely because Yang is the first male from Asia to win a major. Sure, at Augusta National next April, Woods again will enter as an overwhelming favorite. If Tiger is not the winner, the champion probably will have to go through him (just as several recent World Series winners have had to go through the Yankees). But now that Yang stared him down and took him out, there will be a delicious air of uncertainty that will extend into Sunday.
Moreover, the new blood in the majors was a much-needed transfusion. Many time-honored Tiger foils whom we once counted on to show up on Sundays at the big events (Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Jim Furyk) have faded. The 2009 season added three new major champions — Lucas Glover at the U.S. Open, Stewart Cink at the British Open and Yang — and one new multiple-major winner, Angel Cabrera. All prevailed with gutsy late play. True, to paraphrase the old song, for all we know, they may never win again. But they join the ranks of those who have major cred. There are also non-winners who forever threaten to get over the hump. (Dare we compare Sergio Garcia to the Cubs?) The presence of Woods in his prime combined with the sudden sense that the majors are there for the taking could provide a needed jolt for a sport that often has relied, or over-relied, on Tiger for buzz.
So, much in the way that Diamondbacks’ win seemed to embolden the rest of baseball, the Yang victory could usher in an era of giant-slaying, crowd-pleasing competition. Certainly, we are now forewarned: Don’t leave the set until the final putt has dropped. For the first time since Tiger came on the scene, in golf as in baseball, it ain’t over till its over
The United States has won the Solheim Cup.
Total: U.S. 16 | EUR 12
Match 17: Suzann Pettersen EUR vs. Paula Creamer USA
Paula Creamer USA wins 3&2
Match 18: Becky Brewerton EUR vs. Angela Stanford USA
Angela Stanford USA wins 5&4
Match 19: Helen Alfredsson EUR vs. Michelle Wie USA
Michelle Wie USA wins 1 UP
Match 20: Laura Davies EUR vs. Brittany Lang USA
Match 21: Gwladys Nocera EUR vs. Juli Inkster USA
Match 22: Catriona Matthew EUR vs. Kristy McPherson USA
Catriona Matthew EUR wins 3&2
Match 23: Sophie Gustafson EUR vs. Brittany Lincicome USA
Brittany Lincicome USA wins 3&2
Match 24: Diana Luna EUR vs. Nicole Castrale USA
Diana Luna EUR wins 3&2
Match 25: Tania Elosegui EUR vs. Christina Kim USA
Christina Kim USA wins 2UP
Match 26: Maria Hjorth EUR vs. Cristie Kerr USA
Match 27: Anna Nordqvist EUR vs. Morgan Pressel USA
Morgan Pressel USA wins 3&2
Match 28: Janice Moodie EUR vs. Natalie Gulbis USA
Total score: U.S. 8 | EUR 8
Saturday Afternoon Foursomes Matches
Match 13: Gustafson and Moodie (EUR) vs. Creamer and Inkster (U.S.)
EUR wins 4&3
Match 14: Alfredsson and Pettersen (EUR) vs. McPherson and Pressel (U.S.)
U.S. wins 2 up
Match 15: Brewerton and Nocera (EUR) vs. Gulbis and Kim (U.S.)
EUR wins 5&4
Match 16: Nordqvist and Hjorth (EUR) vs. Kerr and Wie (U.S.)
U.S. wins 1 up
Saturday Morning Four-Ball Matches
Match 9: Alfredsson and Elosegui (EUR) vs. Wie and Kim (U.S.)
U.S. wins 5&4
Match 10: Matthew and Luna (EUR) vs. Stanford and Lang (U.S.)
Match 11: Pettersen and Nordqvist (EUR) vs. Castrale and Kerr (U.S.)
EUR wins 2 up
Match 12: Nocera and Hjorth (EUR) vs. Lincicome and McPherson (U.S.)
EUR wins 1 up
More from the Solheim Cup: Day 1 Recap | Photos | Complete Scores