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Golf is a Team Sport

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By Michael Williams

Special to GolfWRX

I had the best run of my life picking games in this year’s NFL playoffs. I predicted the Giants and Patriots in the Super Bowl at the beginning of the playoffs (oh, yes I did).

I was so dialed in that I was predicting turnovers and two plays later they would happen. I missed on only two picks: the Steelers-Broncos game and the Super Bowl. And in both cases I got it wrong cause I bet on a superior player being able to overcome a superior team. Ben Roethlisberger is clearly a superior player to Tim Tebow, but the Steelers were decimated by injuries and were sufficiently diminished as a team to make them vulnerable. In the championship game, Tom Brady’s brilliance could not overcome the combination of a stellar performance by his opposite number Eli Manning the fact that the Giants’ superior personnel at virtually every position. In each case, the better team beat the better player.

As we continue to read the tea leaves of Pebble Beach for indications of what is coming in 2012, one thing is becoming clear. More than ever, today’s PGA Tour is a team sport.

Football is the analogy that comes to mind because the comparison of Brady and Manning fits so nicely with the premise. Brady and Tiger have both had their time as the absolute rulers of the roost. Their combination of skill, charisma and the ability to perform at their best when the stakes were highest propelled them into the pantheon of the greatest in their respective sports. Manning and Mickelson, though extraordinarily gifted in their own right, have been considered to be lesser versions of their storied rivals. Although the stage was not as grand as Manning’s in the Super Bowl, Mickelson produced a dazzling display of golf, trumping his rival Woods yet again in a head to head matchup.  But it wasn’t just Mickelson alone. It was Team Mickelson.

A modern golfer has three basic components to his or her team. First is the caddy, a combination of coach, conspirator, consultant and confessor. The only member of the team that is on the field of play with the athlete, they have to have the physical strength to carry a 70 lb. cart bag six miles uphill, and the internal strength to trust their livelihood to athletes who have psyches more brittle than a frozen DVD.  Second is the swing guru, who is responsible for giving the athlete the practical tools to enable them to win. The best of them like alchemists, able to take a player’s raw talent and turn it into gold. The third component is the family. The wife and children are front and center at most tournaments for a reason; they are the teammates that are present in other sports. They share the training table meal, travel on the planes, checking into the hotels and cheering on the sidelines. A stable, healthy and happy family is crucial to the ongoing success of the athlete.

When you match up Team Woods vs. Team Mickelson, the team concept gains credence. At the height of his power, Team Woods consisted of Tiger, Steve Williams, Butch Harmon and a gorgeous wife with two lovely children.  Steve Williams won’t win Miss Congeniality, but he is one of the best in the game at what he does. He caddied for some of the best in the game before landing the Woods gig and he earned every one of the billion pennies that he made, managing the on-course performance of maybe the biggest prima donna/SOB in sports. But, as the saying goes, it takes one to know one. Butch Harmon was and is the greatest swing coach in history, end of story. Don’t talk to me about Harvey Penick, Jim Flick, etc. It’s all about Butch, baby. And despite the crash landing, Elin and Tiger started out as a happy couple that produced the heir that Earl so badly wanted to see before he passed away. With these three anchors in place, Tiger went on a run seldom seen in the game. He wasn’t even competing with the field; at every event he was paired in a foursome with History, Legacy and Destiny. He gave them two strokes a side and beat them going away.

Now, Team Woods has had a complete turnover at every position. Now on the bag is Joe LaCava, a guy who spent 20 years with Fred Couples and most of last season with Dustin Johnson. He is experienced and professional, but it’s a little different handling two of golf’s acknowledged nice guys and one of its most petulant performers. The guy who flies F-16s is a pilot; so is the guy who flies for JetBlue, but you wouldn’t expect to swap them out and not notice the difference. The latest swing guru is Sean Foley, who seems to have convinced Tiger of his methods but is seriously lacking in the “what have you done for me, ever” category. I think everyone knows the story of the home life.

Contrast that with Phil. He has his caddy Jim “Bones” Mackay, who has been with him his entire career and knows him better than he knows himself. Bones reads moods and greens equally well, so he knows exactly when Mickelson needs a kick or a cuddle. Butch Harmon is now in service of Mickelson, and every time Phil commits to Butch’s swing principles he wins. If Phil ever decided to put in the hours on the range with Harmon that Tiger did, history might look different. Lastly, Phil has a devoted family that has only been strengthened by their recent trials. Now that they are healthy and happy, both athlete and family can concentrate on winning.

Advantage, Team Mickelson.

The issue that golf enthusiasts have with the belly putter is that the club should not be anchored to the body. The plain truth is that every club, every swing is anchored to the mind. The more stable the mind, the more productive the golfer. In stressful times, you have to able to trust yourself; you learn to trust yourself by trusting others. Phil has built a formidable circle of trust, and it will be fascinating to see how far it takes him. For Tiger, it seems that the one person that he ever trusted thoroughly, his father, left his team and this life. In this chapter in his life, the key to regaining his ability may hinge on his lifelong quest for stability in Team Woods.

Click here for more discussion in the “Tour Talk” forum

Michael Williams is the contributing editor of Newschannel8 Capital Golf Weekly and Bunkershot.com, as well as a member of the Golf Writers Association of America.

You can follow Michael on twitter — @Michaelontv

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Williams has a reputation as a savvy broadcaster, and as an incisive interviewer and writer. An avid golfer himself, Williams has covered the game of golf and the golf lifestyle including courses, restaurants, travel and sports marketing for publications all over the world. He is currently working with a wide range of outlets in traditional and electronic media, and has produced and hosted “Sticks and Stones” on the Fox Radio network, a critically acclaimed show that combined coverage of the golf world with interviews of the Washington power elite. His work on Newschannel8’s “Capital Golf Weekly” and “SportsTalk” have established him as one of the area’s most trusted sources for golf reporting. Williams has also made numerous radio appearances on “The John Thompson Show,” and a host of other local productions. He is a sought-after speaker and panel moderator, he has recently launched a new partnership with The O Team to create original golf-themed programming and events. Williams is a member of the United States Golf Association and the Golf Writers Association of America.

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Tour Mash: Rahm wins in Dubai, Cook sizzles to victory

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Two more points races reached their end this weekend. The LPGA season culminated in Florida with the Race to the CME Globe, while the European Tour concluded its Race to Dubai in, where else? Dubai! The PGA Tour played its final event until the new year, in Georgia, while the Ladies European Tour played its Sanya Open in China. Before American Thanksgiving revelry and remembrance set in, it’s time for one more tour mash.

LPGA Tour: A day of twos ends in a win for Ariya

Ariya Jutanugarn birdied her final two holes to win the CME Tour Championship. She was given the opportunity to win in regulation when Lexi Thompson pushed a 2-foot putt for par at the last. Although Thompson did not win the year’s final event, she captured 2 titles of her own: Vare Trophy for low scoring average and Race To CME Globe, the season’s points race.

How Ariya Jutanugarn tasted victory

The power game has arrived on the LPGA Tour, in case you missed it. Golfers such as Lexi, Ariya and Sung Hyun Park obliterate the orb, leaving little yardage to the green. When her game is firing, Ariya Jutanugarn is unstoppable. After bogey at the first hole on Sunday, the young golfer from Thailand etched six birdies into the final 17 holes, for a second-consecutive 67. Her birdie at the last came from 23 feet, an amazing putt to hole with victory on the line. Down it went, and up went the smile of a champion.

How the rest came up just shy of a win

With eerie similarity, Lexi Thompson’s card was the flip side of Ariya’s. Thompson made six birdies over her first 17 holes, but the hiccough at the last, her only bogey on the day, dropped her to 14-under par and opened the door for Jutanugarn. Thompson was on absolute fire on Sunday, hitting all 14 fairways and using the putter 28 times. Ariya, Kim Kaufman, Michelle Wie and Suzann Pettersen stood tied atop at 10-under, heading into round 4. Pettersen’s 72, Kaufman’s 71 and Wie’s 70 were simply not enough to keep pace with those coming from behind on Sunday. Ariya, however, was up to the challenge.

European Tour: Rahm wins in Dubai and Fleetwood breathes again

For a time, it seemed as though Justin Rose would win his third consecutive event in Europe and would squeeze past Fleetwood for the season points title. The former Englishman was in the midst of the greatest scoring run of his career, while the later Englishman seemed to have little petrol left in the tank. Then the back nine on Sunday happened, and everything changed.

How Jon Rahm won the DP World Tour

Shane Lowry made 10 birdies on Sunday, but he had one bogey. Rahm had half as many birdies and zero bogeys, and that last number made the difference. The young Basque played a stellar 132 over the closing 36 holes, eclipsed only by Lowry’s 131. Rahm fearlessly navigated his way around the Jumeirah Estates course, eeking out a one-shot win over Lowry and also hard-charging Kiradech Aphibarnrat.

How the others went home trophy-less

We all want to know about Rose. four birdies on the outward 9-holes staked him to a lead, and the greatest season comeback on a major tour was nearly written. With only three bogeys in his first 63 holes, Rose proceeded to bogey 12, 14 and 16, with only a birdie at the last to bring him to 17-under. He ended up two behind Rahm, and in second place in the Race to Dubai points race. It was a glorious campaign for Rose, and cements him as world player to watch in 2018. The Englishman tied for fourth with Sergio Garcia, Dean Burmeister and Dylan Fritelli, both of South Africa, on 17-under par.

PGA Tour: Cook collects First Tour win in Georgia

Fall is a time for young aspirants to make a mark on the PGA Tour. Austin Cook followed the script, birdieing 3-of-his-final-4 holes to stretch a single-shot lead into a four-stroke triumph. J.J. Spaun, a Web.Com tour graduate in 2017, was in the mix for the second consecutive week. He played well down the stretch, and earned a runner-up finish.

How Cook caught fire

Austin Cook played a veteran front-nine, with one bogey and one birdie. None of the chasers caught him, so the Arkansas alum continued to manage his game in the fairways-greens style. On the inward half, Cook took charge, with birdies at 15, 17 and 18, to move well in front of the runner-up. With the precision of a surgeon, Cook took apart the Sea Island course in impressive fashion. After his second-round 62, many expected him to have one weak round on the weekend, but 66-67 showed the his mettle.

How the others flamed out

Spaun really didn’t flame out, not like last week, when he caught the double-bogey train. A proven winner on other tours, Spaun should win in 2018. His game was solid, mixing in more birdies than bogeys, and his second-place finish was well-earned. Brian Gay might have been more comfortable than any other golfer this week, but he was just as erratic. Case in point: back nine. From holes 13 to 18, Gay made one birdie, two eagles, two pars and one double. Still, his numbers were low enough to secure solo third, one stroke behind Spaun and two in front of the fourth-place finishers.

Ladies European Tour: Boutier sizzles on back nine for win

Celine Boutier imagined a top-10 or top-5 when the third day dawned at Yalong Bay, in China. After bogeys on holes 4 and 5, she needed to gather herself in order to preserve her standing. From this day forward, “gather herself” in the dictionary will forever show a picture of Celine Boutier. Her six-birdie finish vaulted her past all challengers, to her first European Tour victory.

How Boutier bloomed

The recent Duke University graduate posted three rounds in the 60s, the only competitor to achieve that distinction at the Sanya Open. The Frenchwoman didn’t make a bogey until the 15th hole of her second round, but she was stuck in neutral from that hole through the 9th hole on Sunday, making only pars and bogeys. Something clicked at the turn, and Boutier regained the confidence that had produced 10 birdies during the tournament’s first half.

How the others gave chase

Solar Lee was in good standing on Sunday’s outward nine. She bounced back from an opening bogey with three birdies through the 9th, and held the top spot on the leader board at 7-under. Lee reached 9-under through 13, but made bogey at 14 to drop to 8-under. Then came the blossoming of Boutier, and Lee had to be satisfied with the runner-up spot. One spot behind Lee was Valdis Thora Jonsdottir, Iceland’s reigning professional golfer, at 7-under.

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Wednesday’s Photos from The 2017 RSM Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from The 2017 RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club — the Seaside course plays as a par 70 measuring 7,005 yards — in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

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Headlined by last week’s OHL Classic champion Patton Kizzire, and 2015 RSM Champion Kevin Kisner, this week’s field is filled with notable names including Ricky Barnes, Zac Blair, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Harris English, Tommy Gainey, Bill Haas, Beau Hossler, Zach Johnson, Smylie Kaufman, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III, Graeme McDowell, Ollie Schniederjans, Brandt Snedeker, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson and others.

In last year’s RSM Classic, Mackenzie Hughes won in a five-man playoff to secure his first PGA Tour victory. He’s back in the field this year to defend his title.

Check out out photos from Sea Island G.C. below!

Wednesday’s Galleries

 

Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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Tuesday’s Photos from the 2017 RSM Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from The 2017 RSM Classic at Sea Island Golf Club — the Seaside course plays as a par 70 measuring 7,005 yards — in St. Simons Island, Georgia.

Related

Headlined by last week’s OHL Classic champion Patton Kizzire, and 2015 RSM Champion Kevin Kisner, this week’s field is filled with notable names including Ricky Barnes, Zac Blair, Luke Donald, Ernie Els, Harris English, Tommy Gainey, Bill Haas, Beau Hossler, Zach Johnson, Smylie Kaufman, Matt Kuchar, Davis Love III, Graeme McDowell, Ollie Schniederjans, Brandt Snedeker, Hudson Swafford, Bubba Watson and others.

In last year’s RSM Classic, Mackenzie Hughes won in a five-man playoff to secure his first PGA Tour victory. He’s back in the field this year to defend his title.

Check out out photos from Sea Island G.C. below!

Tuesday’s Galleries

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX members are saying about the photos in our forums.

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