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GolfWRX Morning 9: Tiger talks 2019 | Phil’s legacy | Koepka snubbed again

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

December 12, 2018

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.
1. Brooks snubbed again
“I get no respect!” Who said it, Rodney Dangerfield or Brooks Koepka?
  • Golf Channel report…”That narrative received a little more fuel to the fire Tuesday when ESPN released its list of the top 20 most dominant athletes of 2018. On a list that included Olympic gymnast Simone Biles (No. 1), NBA superstar LeBron James (No. 13) and LPGA golfer Ariya Jutanugarn (No. 4), Koepka was notably absent.”
  • “Koepka won two majors this year, the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, and also captured the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges this fall.”
  • “For a guy who already believes he’s been overlooked during his career, this certainly won’t help change his mind.”
2. Tiger talks 2019
Woods sat down for an exclusive with Golf.com. Here are a few morsels from an interesting conversation.
  • “Let’s shift gears for a moment. If you could steal one part of any player’s game – any player ever – what would you make your own?…Well, I figure if I could hit every fairway for the rest of my life I’d be all right. [Laughs] From there, I can figure out how to get it on the green, I can make my fair share of putts and I can get it up and down. But if I could hit it in the fairway [every time] about 320, maybe 340 yards, I’d be all right.”
  • “So, Greg Norman?…Well, it depends. In that era, 280 was a long drive. Now it’s, “Hey, can you carry it 320 in the air?” The game has evolved and, I was telling some [people in Melbourne], when I came down here to play the Presidents Cup in 1998, some of the guys were transitioning out of persimmon. The game has changed dramatically since then.”
  • “So what does a successful 2019 look like for you?…I had one win this year. It was amazing to have [2018] culminate with the Tour Championship. I’m not going to win every tournament – I never have. But if I can just get myself in contention, I think I’ll win my share.”
3. Mickelson’s legacy
Did 2018 change the way we think about Lefty?
  • Golfworld’s Dave Shedloski...”When Phil Mickelson raced across the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in the third round of the 118th U.S. Open and whacked his ball while it was careening down a slope away from the hole, he crossed through the fourth circle of golf hell. Not only did he change the direction of the shot as it was moving, but, it was believed, he had altered the direction of his career narrative. Whatever the artful player did going forward, that unhinged moment when he broke the rules and arrogantly explained that he did so intentionally, all occurring on his 48th birthday, was sure to affix itself permanently to Lefty’s legacy. Or so went the predominant opinion.”
  • “Five months later in Las Vegas, as part of a mega-hyped match against Tiger Woods, Mickelson won $9 million. Never in the lead up to the winner-take-all match or during coverage of it or in the postscript was the U.S. Open or the incident mentioned-except by Woods, who taunted his rival when he ruthlessly pointed out that he had never won the national championship. Neither was the L’Affair Shinny a topic of discussion in September at the Ryder Cup in Paris, not even among the tabloids. Nor in August at the PGA Championship in St. Louis.”
4. Shots o’ the year
Doug Ferguson goes through the bag, highlighting some of the most memorable shots hit with various clubs in ’18.
  • A few…“3-IRON…Just about every tournament brought a moment that indicated Woods was back to being Woods. One of those moments was the opening round of the BMW Championship at rain-softened Aronimink. From 242 yards on the par-5 16th, Woods hit a 3-iron high and straight. It landed 8 feet in front of the hole and stopped 5 feet next to the pin for an eagle on his way to a 62. It was the first time he had at least a share of the lead after any round in five years.”
  • “PUTTER…The most memorable shot with the putter didn’t go in the hole. Phil Mickelson only wanted to make sure it didn’t go off the front of the 13th green on Saturday at the U.S. Open. So he trotted over and slapped at the ball as it was still moving , an egregious rules violation. Mickelson says he knew the penalty (two shots) and liked that better than having to play from off the green. He also knew his U.S. Open was over. He made a 10 and shot 81, matching his worst score in the only major he hasn’t won.”
5. Louisville Golf
Our Peter Schmitt paid a visit to arguably the finest purveyors of persimmon, Louisville Golf.
  • “Jeremy Wright gets it. Taking over at Louisville Golf is not for everybody. This isn’t a multi-billion-dollar revenue generating machine with private research facilities and elaborate corporate complexes. It’s not about money…or fame…or 385-yard drives. Gerard Just, the youngest of the Just brothers who started Louisville Golf might have summed it up best:”
  • “You know, I guess you could say we’re simple people. We don’t really go on vacations. But we work hard and we enjoy what we do. We don’t make a lot of money. I don’t think my kids could afford to work here to be honest, but they hate their jobs. We never really had that problem.”
  • “Louisville Golf was established in 1974 by Elmore Just and Steve Taylor when they left Hillerich & Bradsby (crafters of Louisville Slugger baseball bats and Power-Bilt golf clubs). Elmore ran the business side of the company and Steve oversaw the manufacturing aspect. Back then, in the heyday of persimmon, the club manufacturers were on an allotment. Since persimmon (remarkably well-suited for golf clubs due to its strength and density) is a relatively slow-growing wood, there was only so much material to go around and upstart Louisville Golf had to fight for every block they got. Eventually, they built the business into a major player, making 800 clubs a day for the likes of Hogan, MacGregor, Wilson, Spalding, and others.”
6. Patrick Sullivan
He who putted a ball into the water and missed a four-footer at Q-School, Patrick Sullivan, isn’t letting it get him down.
  • A bit of Brentley Romine’s profile…”Life on the mini-tours was tough. He lost as much as $8,000 when the U.S. Pro Golf Tour, which had promised million-dollar purses, folded. He competed in Q-School, which was then offering PGA Tour cards, every year, but only made it to second stage once. Several times, he was eliminated at first stage by a shot.”
  • “By 2010, he decided to settle down. “I was tapped out,” he said. He married his girlfriend, Talia, and took a job as an assistant pro at the Alotian Club in Roland, Ark., and later moved to Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock.”
  • “Working 60-hour weeks, though, eventually grew on Sullivan. One day, Talia asked her husband, “You really want to play golf again, don’t you?”
  • “Sullivan re-committed himself to pro golf in 2015, and that year won the Arkansas Open, for a third time. But he still couldn’t get over the Q-School hump. He finished just shy of advancing at first stage in two straight years, by one shot.”
7. What we learned
Kyle Porter looks in the rearview mirror at what we learned in 2018.
  • “1. Tiger is not human: It still doesn’t seem real. To come from the place he came from to the place he got to — winning the Tour Chamionship over 29 of the best golfers on the planet — was remarkable. If I was floored at the PGA Championship when he shot 64 on Sunday to nearly steal the show, I was flabbergasted that Woods was able to win a month later. I know nothing he does should surprise, but if you’ve been following closely, you know he was completely cooked — and then he wasn’t.”
  • “2. Jordan Spieth is human: After averaging over three wins and 12 top 10s a season in the previous three seasons, Spieth came back down to earth in 2018. I’m still purchasing all of the stock (and will do so if you want to sell some to me), but prolonged success at the two-or three-win level per year might be an impossibility in this era.”
  • “3. Justin Rose is the most consistent top player: He might not have all the wins to back it up, but Rose finished in the top 10 in 15 of 22 events worldwide in 2018, which means he’s finished in the top 10 in 20 of 47 events over the past two years. Thirty of 47 events!”
8. Reed against the world
That’s Scott Michaux’s headline in piece for Golf Digest.
  • A portion…”So now what? In what should have been a triumphant season in the continued development of one of America’s top young talents, Patrick Reed instead faces a different reality. What kind of environment has he created for himself moving forward, not just with fans trying to figure him out but also with his peers?”
  • “Reed’s tarnished relationship with his Ryder Cup teammates follows the same pattern as his collegiate experience. He was persona non grata when he was kicked off the team at Georgia in 2009 after one season, and others on the Augusta State roster tolerated him as a necessary evil in helping deliver the school consecutive NCAA championships in 2010 and 2011.”
  • “They all hate him-any guys that were on the team with him [at Georgia] hate him and that’s the same way at Augusta,” said Kevin Kisner, a Georgia alum who predated Reed’s arrival in Athens and lives 20 minutes from Augusta in Aiken, S.C. “I don’t know that they’d piss on him if he was on fire, to tell you the truth.”
9. Valentino Dixon
Our Michael Williams talked with Valentino Dixon about the Golf Channel documentary detailing his at once inspiring and heartbreaking saga in the latest episode of the 19th Hole.

 

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Not even gaoth and basiteach could stop Lowry’s march to the Open Championship

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In Gaelic, gaoth is wind, and basiteach is rain. Don’t ask for a pronunciation lesson, however. Neither of those elemental forces offered much opposition to Shane Lowry, in his essentially, wire-to-wire victory in the 148th playing of the Open Championship.

10 years after he won the Irish Open, as an amateur no less, on the same golf course, Lowry returned to Royal Portrush and held off Tommy Fleetwood to win his first major championship. We’ve identified 5 keys to victory, and are pleased to relate them below. It was a glorious week in Portrush, and our return should not be too far off in the future.

1. The atmosphere

In Scotland, it’s the craic; in Ireland, it’s the shebeen. That wondrous, celebratory mood that transcends age, weather, and any conceivable obstacle. Lowry withstood a short, missed putt in 2009, and here he was again, a decade later, in similar circumstances. Eager to lay away the burden of his 2016 US Open loss to Dustin Johnson, Lowry breathed in the environment with enthusiasm. Eschewing a Saturday evening of monastic contemplation, he and his caddie went out for a pint or two. It was the craic and the shebeen that carried him on its shoulders, to victory.

2. The quick starts

There was no doubt that Brooks Koepka’s caddie, Ricky Elliott, had much experience going round the Portrush. Trouble was, Brooks didn’t. His putting abandoned him for four straight days. In complete contrast, Lowry appeared to make every roll in site, until Sunday. By then, no one was making putts. Have a glance at these starts for the burly Lowry:

  • Thursday: -2 through 7
  • Friday: -5 through 8
  • Saturday: -2 through 7
  • Sunday: -2 through 7

Never once did he get off with a struggle. 11-under par each day, heading to the back nine, was a whale of an advantage. Many will point to the glorious birdies he made over a closing hole or two, but it was that knowledge that the outward half was his, that doubtless buoyed his spirits.

3. Grace while scrambling

It would be fitting that, in some dialectal variation of a communication system, the word Lowry or a derivative, meant Big man with soft hands. His driving was exquisite all week, but in order to secure birdies, he needed to chase it on here, bump it on there, flop it on here, and roll it up there. The launch pad made no difference: short grass, thick stuff, or sand. Lowry was on point from start to finish. If it were a Ryder Cup year, the European captain would doubtless search for a partner for the Irish Hagrid. As it is, they have plenty of time to figure out how to use this latest weapon.

4. Consistently great play

Not once all week did Lowry make a fortunate bogey. Even as he gave a shot or two away  (8 bogies in total, 5 in the final round) he was never on the brink of disaster. Near as the cliffs and the causeway were for some, Lowry never dance along gravity’s edge. The entirety of the week was an artisan’s master class. Fortunate us, we have the video to review, to review what Lowry taught us in real time.

5. The fan support

There’s a difference between atmosphere and fan support. Atmosphere is for the fans, and can distract the player if he allows it. Support needs nor writing nor speech; it is felt by the intended recipient and utilized to will shots toward their target. After Clarke, McDowell and McIlroy gave evidence that they would not challenge for the title of Champion Golfer of the Year, Lowry became a de facto Ulsterman. And why not? County Westmeath borders County Cavan, and the later is one of the 3 non-Northern Ireland counties of Ulster. There was great affection and appreciation for each competitor this week, but a special warmth was reserved for the eventual champion.

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5 things we learned on Saturday at The Open Championship

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On Saturday, the Royal and Ancient announced that tee times would be moved up on Sunday, in anticipation of, well, British Open golf weather. Cue head scratch and chin stroke. At least the organizers didn’t opt for split tees or some other, silly-American addition to the game. On Saturday, we again watched the ebb and flow of Royal Portrush. The “strike early and hold on late” mantra that has characterized this tournament.

On Saturday, we marveled at one man’s near-mastery of this wondrous, Harry Colt design, whose absence from the Open Championship rota must never be repeated. To limit ourselves to five things learned is lamentable, but it is both burden and duty. Accordingly, here are the 5 things that we learned from Saturday’s 3rd round of the Open Championship.

1. European golf fans are marvelous, while American ones have much to learn

“Ole, ole ole ole” is the most supportive thing you can hear on a golf course. Not bah-bah-black sheep, err, booey, not mashed potatoes. Today, the “ole” was replaced with “Lowry,” in tribute to the Irish champion. There is community in European events, and much as they want their golfer to win, they support everyone who plays proper golf. There will be no appeal here to the wags who insist on cementing their unfortunate place in history as burdensome; instead, we tip our cap to the great golfing fans of Northern Ireland, who carry all who compete on the wings of appreciation.

2. Shane Lowry is happy to dream a dream

Don’t wake him just yet, thank you very much. Another 24 hours of this hypnagogic state will suit him well. The Irishman had 8 birdies on Saturday, for 63 and 197. He has 19 birdies and a mere 3 bogeys on the week. He sits at 16 shots below par, 4 clear of his nearest pursuer. No, it’s not over. It has barely begun. Royal Portush has shown that it will cede a low score to great golf, so a 62 is not out of the realm of the possible.

In truth, perhaps a dozen golfers have a chance, but you would be challenged to find a better selection of challengers. Justin Rose, Danny Willett, Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood are four Englishmen who would love to lift the Claret jug in triumph on Sunday. Brooks Koepka, J.B. Holmes and Rickie Fowler represent the American contingent who hope to spirit the trophy away to a distant shore. And lest we forget, the young Spaniard, Jon Rahm, continues to take steps toward the highest echelon of championship golf. Above them all sits Lowry, current occupant of the Iron Throne. He has lost a final-round lead in a major event before. Sunday will give him a chance to demonstrate all that he has learned in the interim.

3. Brooks Koepka blueprints major championship golf

Speaking of Koepka, he’s still here. He birdied 17 and 18, just as viewers and fans were convinced that this tournament had left his domain. Only the envious and the haters (cousins to the envious) find fault with his golf game. They attempt to marginalize his skill set, focusing in desperation on his power, calling him one dimensional. In truth, we haven’t yet seen his best. He has reached -9 with a B+/A- effort at best. If the cylinders that fired for Lowry on Saturday, find their way to Koepka’s engine on Sunday, he will claim the title. It’s not possible to say that confidently nor currently about any other golfer than him.

 

4. Tommy Fleetwood will have his major opportunity on Sunday

The Englishman did what he needed to do on Saturday, to secure the coveted pairing with Lowry in round 4. Fleetwood made 5 birdies on the day, and didn’t threaten to make worse than par. The only difference between his round and that of the leader, was his concluding run of 6 pars. Reverse hole 15-17, and Fleetwood sits at -15, while Lowry resides at -13. Fleetwood has been accurate as a laser this week, and he will need to repeat that performance from both tee and fairway, to give himself a chance at victory.

5. What will the weather bring?

Wind, for one thing. For three days, competitors have dictated the shape of their shots. On Sunday, that right will not be theirs. Winds from the left, from the right, from every possible angle, will demand that golfers play shots low, under and through the gusts, to reach their targets. Rain, for another thing. The moisture will thicken the rough, allowing balls to drop deep into the native grasses. It will cause shots to squirt sideways, perhaps down a ravine, perhaps worse. If what is predicted, comes to pass, we’re in for an entirely-new tournament over the final 18 holes.

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5 things we learned Friday at The Open Championship

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36 holes have come and gone, unexpected early departures happened for Jason Day, Tiger Woods, and all the amateurs, while unexpected extensions were granted to Paul Waring, Matt Wallace, and Innchoon Hwang. Royal Portrush was kinder in the morning than the afternoon, for the second consecutive day. What does that mean? It means that whoever has the lead today will be pressed to hold on through Saturday, then rinse and repeat for Sunday. In other words, more drama than a Snap.

Have a quick glance at what we deemed to be the five most important things we learned on Friday at #TheOpenChampionship.

1. What a difference a day makes! Wipeout Guy tosses 65 on Friday

Justin Harding is a good stick, for a tumbler. He won in Qatar this year on the European Tour, so let’s not define him by one swing of the golf club (even though we are going to show it below.) Harding uncovered 6 birdies and 1 eagle around Royal Portrush Friday morning, jumping from Even Par to, well, minus-six, with the first 65 of the week. He might win a skin for that 7th-hole eagle, if the fellows are playing for skins today. If not, He’s certainly positioned for an afternoon tee time on Saturday. Harding tied for 12th at the Masters in April, and made the cut at Bethpage in the PGA; his major-championship experience grows even more this weekend.

2. Meet The Woods

No, not the one with stripes. He’s down the road, after missing the cut. It’s early on Friday, but Tommy Fleetwood and Lee Westwood may very well peg it together on Saturday afternoon. The English pair posted identical rounds of 68-67 over 2 days, to reach 7-below par. They find themselves tied for 3rd, behind JB Holmes and Shane Lowry. Prepare yourselves for announcers to dance around Lee having won no majors over his career, and Tommy looking to match his Ryder Cup bro, Francesco Molinari, with an Open Championship of his own. So predictable! What’s not predictable, is how the two will play on day three of the Portrush Summer Invitational.

3. Rory is the story of the 2019 Open Championship

Yes, there will be a winner on Sunday. Indeed, there will also be runners-up and various degrees of elation and disappointment. No one will come close to doing what Rory McIlroy did over the first 36 holes … and he didn’t even make the cut! David Duval spoke as much for Rory as for himself on Thursday, when he unequivocally mandated that a professional golfer signs the scorecard. Rory’s opening 8 was just a bit less gory than his closing 7. He missed a 12-inch putt on Thursday. On Friday, facing the worse of the weather draws, he tied the low round of the tournament with 65, 14 strokes better than his day-one offering. When the final flag stick was replaced in the 18th hole, he had missed the cut by those 12 inches. Odds are long that he would have challenged for the title over the weekend. McIlroy would have needed another low round to get to -5 or so, and would have needed everyone to back up substantially. In the end, he wore his home colors proudly, he never gave up, and he gave us something to cheer for, and to learn from.

4. J.B. Holmes and Shane Lowry might be cousins, in a parallel universe

Our co-leaders each sport a beard, a barrel chest, and an ability to hit the long ball when it matters. Both appear unflappable thus far, and both have exhibited an ability to go on a tear. The only thing we have yet to see from either is, the guts to come back from a rotten break or a really bad hole. If neither one faces that ultimatum, they might be in a playoff come Sunday afternoon. Lowry had a chance to separate from the pack by 3-4 strokes. He reached -10 with his 6th birdie of the day, on number 10, but that would be the final, sub-par hole of the day for him. The Irishman bogeyed 2 holes coming in, dropping back to -8 with Holmes. As neither has a major title on the resume, neither has demonstrated the capacity for success on the oldest stage. Should be an interesting pairing on Saturday afternoon.

5. So many lurkers!

Justin Rose…2 strokes back. Jordan Spieth, Dylan Frittelli and Brooks Koepka…3 shots behind. Four in arrears are Finau, Rahm, Kuchar and Reed. Many majors, much potential, and a lot of power in those 8 names. Yes, we’ll miss the guys who aren’t in contention (Bubba Watson, Francesco Molinari, Graeme McDowell) and the aforementioned ones whose watch ended early. As anticipated a venue as Royal Portrush has been, so too, will the outcome be this weekend. Get your rest, get up early, put on coffee, get some doughnuts, and enjoy breakfast the next two days!

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