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Collision course: A new No. 1 and the “old Tiger”

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By Michael Williams

Special to GolfWRX

Sports debate is driven by fact but the destination is an opinion. Even when the scoreboard is clear cut, there are varying conclusions that can be drawn about who is the best, as opposed to who was better on a given day.

By 6 p.m. on Sunday, two conclusions were clear by fact and reasonably informed opinion; Rory McIlroy is the best player in the world. And Tiger Woods is still the most important player in the word. These two were finally linked in competition rather than idle conversation and hopefully the world can look forward to them drafting off each other like a couple of stock cars for the foreseeable future.

McIlroy finally succeeded in assuming the top world ranking, an occurrence with all the inevitability of day following night. He roamed the Jack Nicklaus layout with equal parts fire and ice. He hit prodigious drives and laser-like irons into the stiff Florida winds to pins that were hidden like Easter eggs. And on the rare occasions where his full swing failed him, his short game came to the rescue. McIlroy’s wedge and bunker play had been a perceived weakness; this week, it was razor sharp. And he saved par time after time with putts of six to eight feet, a pre-requisite for the best player in the world. As the wax wings of journeyman Tom Gillis and the other contenders began to melt on the back nine on Sunday, it appeared that the prince would become the King without dispute.

And then, after two years of being Eldrick Woods, Eldrick suddenly became Tiger again. Woods’ ball-striking had been good in recent outings; on Sunday it was superb. The last time Woods led a tournament in driving distance, McIlroy was sweating his 8th grade science project, but Woods did it this week. He also led the field in a stat called Proximity to the Hole … stop it … which essentially means that he was hitting his drives far and his irons close. He finally put together a round of solid ball-striking and lights out putting, and most significantly he did it on Sunday. And you could almost hear the sound of televisions switching to watch a routine PGA Tour event, made special because the most talked about athlete since Michael Jordan was doing that thing he does. When Tiger is at his best, it’s not just a sporting event. It’s a social event.

Tiger and Rory both fit the profile of the golf titans: They won early in their careers, they win often, and they win important. And if the gods are smiling, they can add one more facet of glory to each other with every event they participate in together: they can win against each other. You got the feeling yesterday that after losing sight of Nicklaus’ legacy, which for so long had been his aim point on the horizon, Tiger had found a closer target. If he was to be the once and future King, he needed to vanquish this new knight. And he very nearly did, and he went about it in the fashion that makes Tiger an amalgamation of the best qualities of the best players who ever lived. He was long like Nicklaus, precise like Jones, relentless like Hogan. And on the par five 18th, blasting a mid-iron 220 yards to eight feet and then dropping the eagle putt to put up a career final-round best 62, he could only be compared to himself.

And McIlroy, this improbably gifted young player, showed that behind the tousled mop of hair and the Gerber baby cheeks are a will and determination to match the ability and the ambition. McIlroy had to protect a wafer-thin two shot lead through the Bear Trap, arguably the toughest stretch of holes anywhere on Tour. And there was no doubt that he knew what was happening, as the echoes of each step in Woods’ assault was punctuated with the roars of the grateful crowd. But where McIlroy had been spectacular on previous days, he was wise and cunning on Sunday. He protected par like a jealous boyfriend, making his number from deep rough, treacherous sand and wayward locations on the greens. On No. 18, he opted for rational rather than remarkable, laying up in the fairway and easing into his par and the championship like fighter pilot making a routing landing, preserving his two shot lead and the championship.

Maverick and Iceman, indeed.

I admit I got emotional watching on Sunday. I was happy for both McIlroy’s ascendance and Woods’ resurgence. I was even happy for Gillis, who sank a putt that tied him with Woods for second, won him about $200,000 additional dollars and validated the career ticket he’d been carrying for 15 years. But the source of the chills that I felt was the fact these two battling for supremacy had made the Honda Classic seem like the fifth major. Augusta awaits, ready to play leading lady to these supreme actors. Both of them seek dominance in posterity and in the now. Tiger never had the chance to compete against Nicklaus in his prime; he could only use Nicklaus’ record as a road map on a journey he was making solo. It appears that another traveler is in view and while Tiger may get there first, Rory has intentions of matching him step for step. And because he is doing so against Woods, the entire world will be watching. Not only to see him win, but to see him try to do it against the best of this or possibly any other generation. Oh, and Mickelson will probably be there, too.

To coin a phrase, I can’t wait.

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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Equipment

TaylorMade signs Matthew Wolff to a multi-year deal; Wolff WITB

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TaylorMade Golf has officially announced the signing of Matthew Wolff on a multi-year agreement that will see the 20-year-old play the company’s metal woods, irons, wedges, putter and ultimately, TaylorMade’s flagship golf ball, the TP5x.

Wolff had previously unveiled that he would be making his professional debut at this week’s Travelers Championship, and just as top prospect Collin Morikawa did earlier at this month’s Canadian Open, Wolff will do so as a TaylorMade staffer.

The NCAA All-American and 2019 NCAA Division I individual champion made his debut on the PGA Tour at the Waste Management Phoenix Open earlier this year where he finished T50 after opening his week with a round of five-under par.

Matthew Wolff WITB

Driver: TaylorMade M6 (8 degrees)
Shaft: Graphite Design TP 7TX

Fairway Wood: TaylorMade M6 (15 degrees)
Shaft: Project X HZRDUS Smoke 6.5 TX

Utility Iron: TaylorMade P760 (2)
Shaft: Nippon Modus 130x

Irons: TaylorMade P750 Tour Proto (3-PW)
Shafts: Nippon Modus 130x

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind Raw (52, 56, 62 degrees)
Shaft: True Temper Dynamic Gold X100

Putter: TaylorMade Spider X Copper

 

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5 questions with Justin Kinney of Virtual Golf Caddy

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We chatted with Justin Kinney, founder and CEO of startup Virtual Golf Caddy about his product, which serves both courses and players, by offering drone arial photography of golf courses (with graphics overlayed).

While drone photography and videography of golf courses is an established phenomenon, using the photos and video for better course management and preparation is a relatively new approach.

We wanted to learn more about what VGC is doing, and Kinney was kind enough to answer a handful of questions and include an example of the company’s work.

1. Tell us a bit about your background

I am 38 years old, born and raised in Connecticut. Lifelong golfer. Just finishing up my career as a middle school math teacher to focus on VGC full-time. I also have five years of business experience managing people’s retirement accounts. I played as many sports as I could growing up, and love the thrill of competition.

2. What’s the opportunity you saw?

I agreed to caddie for one of my students two summers ago. When researching the courses he was going to play, there was NO info on the courses. I thought there was a huge opportunity to provide course management strategies for players and give players a view of the entire courses with drones. No one was really doing anything like that, so I spent the past two years working on and building my business plan. Two months ago I secured funding to work on this full-time.

3. What is Virtual Golf Caddy, exactly?

VGC is a golf preparation and mental conditioning program designed to help give golfers a game plan to attack courses with. We provide drone views of each hole as well as course management strategies on how to best play each hole. Shot suggestions are given based on how far and confident players hit their clubs. We include mental conditioning tips and exercises to help players “zone in” more often and consistently. We are considering getting into golf fitness and nutrition as well to help build the whole golfer. Players purchase access to each course’s videos and info for either $15 or $25 per course, depending on how much info they want. They get unlimited access to the videos and can watch them wherever (home, airport, hotel, course).

4. What stage is the business in, and can you show us an example of VCG in action? 

We are still in the start-up phase. We are making agreements with and filming at courses. The website is being redesigned and will be up in June. It appears like things may take off quickly so stay tuned!

For an example, check out the video below.

6. What else should GolfWRX members know?

We are looking for courses to partner with. We will give courses free publicity on our site, a promotional video from the footage to use on their site, and share 15 percent of their courses profits with them. A win-win for everyone involved! If readers know of any courses, please email us.

One other thing to add: the mental prep/conditioning program is being built by renowned sports psychologist Bill Cole, MS, MA. It is legit and comes from over 40 years of research and experience! We’re also pursuing options in fitness and nutrition.

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Morning 9: U.S. Open ratings soar | ….and still, calls for Joe Buck’s head | Woodland’s big betting buddies trip

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

June 18, 2019

Good Tuesday morning, golf fans.
1. U.S. Open ratings up 44 percent
AP report on the big uptick in viewership…”This year’s U.S. Open was the most watched since Fox started televising the event in 2015.”
  • “Nielsen ratings show Sunday’s final round averaged 7.31 million viewers and peaked at 10.17 viewers from 9:15 to 9:30 p.m. EDT, when Gary Woodland clinched his first major.”
  • “Sunday’s final round saw an increase of 44% over last year, when an average of 5.09 million watched. It is the first time since 2013 that the final round has averaged over seven million. The 2013 U.S. Open on NBC averaged 8.4 million for the final 18 holes.”
2. When the U.S. Open returns to Pebble…
Good stuff from Geoff Shackelford with some modest (in a Swiftian sense) suggestions regarding what we could see when the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach in 2027
Here’s one thing he sees when looking into his crystal ball…”This year’s pre-tournament buzz centered around how many holes would require driver. But as a new wave of 5-9, 150-pound super jocks continue to overtake pro golf and the governing bodies cave to their marketing departments instead of regulating distance, players in the 2027 U.S. Open ponder whether to add a sixth wedge to their bag over carrying the big stick. Just days before the event and citing pressure on their business model, equipment manufacturers successfully lobby the USGA for a local rule mandating players carry at least one of their drivers, now priced at $750. But 58-year-old Phil Mickelson, playing on a special exemption, bucks the trend and carries three drivers.”
3. Woodland’s debt to basketball
The New York Times’ Karen Crouse…
  • “Gary Woodland grew up a serial monogamist, in love, depending on the season, with basketball, baseball and golf. He bonded with his father on the golf course, aspired to be like the Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett and had shooting-guard dreams of glory until they were crushed in college by a future first-round pick of the Chicago Bulls, Kirk Hinrich.”
  • “Woodland, 35, was tasked with guarding Hinrich in his first game for Division II Washburn University against Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse. It did not go well. He can remember thinking, “O.K., I need to find something else, because this ain’t going to work.”
  • “The next year, at roughly the same age that the three-time major champion Jordan Spieth won for the first time on the PGA Tour, Woodland transferred to Kansas and fully committed himself to golf. Sixteen years later, Woodland became the first Kansas alumnus to win one of the four major golf championships.”
4. On Gary Woodland’s equipment…
Golf Digest’s E. Michael Johnson…
  • “It’s in the woods where Woodland gets particularly lumberjack-like. His Ping G410 Plus driver is a 9-degree head that actually measures out at 7 degrees. Only Bubba Watson on Ping’s staff plays with less loft. Woodland’s driver shaft is an Accra RPG 472 with the company’s M5 rating, which equates to extra-stiff, and it weighs 76 grams, again probably 25 percent or more heavier than your driver shaft. But that’s not enough for Woodland. The shaft is “tipped” approximately two inches, which makes it play at a stiffness like a triple-X shaft.”
  • “Woodland was fit for the Accra shaft almost three years ago at the RBC Canadian Open, and he’s used the same specs through multiple heads ever since. According to Accra’s Gawain Robertson, on the range Woodland “hits it farther probably than anyone in the world,” but in a tournament he wants to play a controlled fade. Like most pros, he hates the hook, so by choosing to play a fade, Woodland’s also bringing more spin into the equation. So he is doing everything equipment-wise to drop that spin. Hence the stoutness of the stiffness of the shaft on his driver and the extra-low loft.”
5. Family pleads guilty to Masters badge scheme
Golf Digest’s Joel Beall…
  • “On Monday a Texas family pleaded guilty to federal charges to a scheme involving stolen identities to obtain Masters badges.”
  • “In the tournament’s hometown of Augusta, Ga., Stephen Freeman appeared before a U.S. District Court to admit to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. As part of a plea deal, Freeman agreed to three years in a federal prison.”
  • “Freeman’s sister and parents pleaded guilty to the same crime. However, their pleas called for no jail time. The four will have to pay more than $275,000 in restitution, according to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine.”
6. Opinion: Joe Buck has to go
West Valentine at Pro Golf Now has had enough…
  • “On Monday a Texas family pleaded guilty to federal charges to a scheme involving stolen identities to obtain Masters badges.”
  • “In the tournament’s hometown of Augusta, Ga., Stephen Freeman appeared before a U.S. District Court to admit to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud. As part of a plea deal, Freeman agreed to three years in a federal prison.”
  • Freeman’s sister and parents pleaded guilty to the same crime. However, their pleas called for no jail time. The four will have to pay more than $275,000 in restitution, according to a release from the office of U.S. Attorney Bobby Christine.”
7. Suh sticks to his sticks
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine…”When Suh turned pro after last month’s NCAA Championship and teed it up in the Memorial Tournament, the flatstick remained in the bag. So did Suh’s other 13 clubs.”
  • “While Suh signed a head-to-toe apparel and bag deal with Puma and a contract with Titleist to continue playing the Pro V1x ball, he decided to hold off on an equipment agreement and continue using his all-Ping setup that he’s used for three years.”
  • “It’s a rare move during a time where the top amateurs are chasing six-figure paydays from equipment companies.”
  • “What I have in the bag is something that I’ve had success with for years, and when I tee it up at a tournament, that’s something that I want in my hands,” Suh said. “I don’t want to look down and look at something completely new. I’m a big believer that the success on the golf course is ultimately going to determine the success you have off the golf course.”
8. Gary’s big betting buddies trip AKA “a little much for some of the guys” 
As told to Jason Sobel at the Action Network…”I went out to Pebble Beach with some buddies. Me and another guy were playing a shamble against two guys scrambling. Each team got three presses. The money got up to where it got to be a little uncomfortable.
  • “Fortunately, though, we were winning.
  • “It’s coming down to the 18th at Pebble and we give them a half-shot on the last hole, just because it got a little out of hand for guys who didn’t have it.
  • “There were a couple of us who could afford it, but we were playing the last hole for $32,000 each. That was a little much for some of the guys.
9. Why Was it Great?
I love this video series from our resident equipment expert Ryan Barath. If you haven’t caught it yet, take five minutes of your life and stroll memory lane…or green as RB discusses the iconic Bullseye putter.

 

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