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Morning 9: Earl Woods’ most significant bit of advice? | Happy (slightly belated) Birthday, Tiger

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

December 31, 2018

Good Monday morning, golf fans, and a very happy New Year’s Eve to you all.
1. Return of the Roar
The Tiger Woods comeback season doc (szn, as the kids say) aired on ESPN last night, and there’s a little related content at this early hour.
A few morsels…
  • Golfweek’s Kevin Casey writes…”Later in the documentary, Woods related that tale of the pressure mounting as his father’s death neared. But the 43-year-old also revealed some sage advice at that time from Earl that stuck with him, even having an impact on the attitude he took during his 2018 comeback”
  • ‘”I’ll never forget the lesson that (dad) told me. That year at the Masters, I tried to win it for him. I knew it was the last tournament he was ever going to watch me play. I need to win one for dad, so he can actually see this before he passes and I tried and I put too much pressure on myself and I went back to California after that to be with Pops and he (was like), ‘What the hell is wrong with you?’ And I said, ‘Well dad, I tried to win it for you.’ He said, ‘Haven’t I taught you anything in the game of golf? You do it for the inner joy that it brings, you don’t do it for anyone else.’ And (I was like), ‘Yeah, I took myself out of what you taught me.’ Looking back on this year, at the core of it all is that I wanted to do it again. I wanted to do it for myself that I could climb the mountain one more time.”‘
Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine with this bit on the loyalty of Joe LaCava
  • “Joe LaCava didn’t caddie much while his boss, Tiger Woods, was recovering from four different back surgeries. He logged fewer than 20 tournaments with Woods in 2014-17. At one point, Woods even told LaCava that he was OK if LaCava found another golfer to loop for.”
  • “But LaCava, speaking during the ESPN documentary “Return of the Roar,” which aired Sunday night, said that he was prepared to wait a long time for Woods’ return.”
  • “If I could live another hundred years, I’d wait another hundred years,” LaCava said. “I was never not going to work for Tiger as long as he was going to have me. I just wanted to work for him and no one else. And I think that helped a little bit, knowing that he had a friend that thought that much of him as a person and with his game.”
2. Tiger’s birthday wishlist
With TW turning 43 yesterday, the crew at Omnisport assembled what ought to be on his birthday wishlist.
  • “An injury-free year…With his well-documented back problems seemingly behind him, Woods steadily improved in 2018 but will be wary of taking anything for granted having endured years in the wilderness with his physical struggles. Staying fit must be top of Woods’ wishlist for his 44th year.”
  • “A 15th major…Woods was twice in contention to end his long wait for a 15th major in 2018 but failed to get over the line at The Open and the US PGA Championship. Time is running out for Woods to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors but, after a 2018 that delivered plenty of promise, he can afford to have hope of cutting the gap in 2019.”
  • “A number one ranking….Woods last topped the world rankings in May 2014. Now ranked 13th, a return to the summit appears an ambitious target given the queue of younger and more consistent golfers ahead of him. Yet if Woods does stay healthy and starts stringing performances together, it is not out of the question he could find himself at the top of the game once more.”
3. Tiger turns 43…but can he make history and return to No. 1 at that age?
Erik Matuszewski writing for Forbes…”As Tiger Woods celebrates his 43rd birthday today, it seems like a good time to ponder what the upcoming year will bring and whether it’s possible he might ever regain the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.”
  • “It seemed a preposterous notion a little over a year ago, when Woods had slipped to 1,199th in the world and himself questioned whether he’d play again competitively as he recovered from a fourth surgery on his back. But Woods has climbed 1,186 spots in the past year and now enters 2019 ranked 13th in the world, ahead of players such as Jason Day, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Jordan Spieth following his successful 2017-18 PGA TOUR season.”
  • “That said, no player has ever held golf’s No. 1 ranking at the age of 43, at least not since the advent of the Official World Golf Ranking in 1986.”
  • “Greg Norman was the game’s oldest No. 1 at 42 years of age back in 1998. Norman, who held the top spot in the rankings 11 different times, was actually one month shy of his 43rd birthday when he was unseated in January of 1998, by a then 22-year-old Woods. Woods had first ascended to the world’s No. 1 ranking in 1997 at the age of 21.”
  • “Vijay Singh was also 42 when he was No. 1 back in 2005. Singh was supplanted by Woods, who then went more than five years atop the rankings.”
Erik Matuszewski weighs Tiger’s odds. Full piece.
4. Tiger’s top 10 performances
We’ve done this already this year, but no harm in a second opinion. Golfweek’s Kevin Casey assembled his top-10 Tiger Woods performances.
His top 3…
  • “2008 U.S. Open…Woods needed 19 playoff holes to finish this one off, but we all know why this win is so high on this list. Woods made it to extra holes and outlasted Rocco Mediate in that playoff despite playing the tournament with a torn left ACL and a double stress fracture in his left leg. This one was unbelievably dramatic and the greatest example of how seemingly nothing could stop Woods in his prime.”
  • “1997 Masters…Obviously Woods’ first major win – a seminal 12-shot beatdown of the field at the 1997 Masters – is going to be near the top. We don’t need to explain much else here, it’s all been told many times by now.”
  • “2000 U.S. Open…This top spot should surprise nobody. Woods’ 15-shot demolishing of the field at the 2000 U.S. Open is the gold standard of golf performances. It’s widely considered the greatest showing in the history of the game. So yeah, No. 1 is fitting here.”
5. The Open effect
Dermot Gillece at the Irish Independent examined the impact felt around Royal Portrush with The Open coming to town this year through some interesting lenses.
A morsel…”Though the big event is still seven months away, Royal Portrush is already experiencing The Open effect. The year just ending has delivered record green-fee revenues of £3m, which is twice what they might have expected before landing their coveted prize.”
  • “My marketing budget has now been reduced to zero,” the club’s secretary/manager Wilma Erskine memorably remarked three years ago when news of 2019 was confirmed. As a bonus, the modified Dunluce links is drawing rich praise not only from tourists, but from television crews who arrived recently from both sides of the Atlantic and who are expected back in the New Year.
  • “The only downside for those enriched by Ms Erskine’s expertise is her scheduled departure. “Yes, I’m stepping down after it’s over,” she said last week. “I think it’s the right time to embark on something else. After 35 years, I think I’ve done my bit.”
  • “Then typically, she couldn’t resist adding: “I’ve managed to survive a lot longer than a lot of people. Now it’s time for someone new, with fresh ideas. Having had The Open, what more could I ask for?” What indeed.”
  • “She will be greatly missed. At the risk of drawing down the wrath of the sisterhood, for a woman to have charge of the financial fortunes of such an historically conservative establishment can have been achieved only by brilliant stewardship.”
6. Fun at non-traditional courses
Jason Lusk reflects on good times he had in ’18 away from the standard 18-hole track.
  • “Too many courses were built in recent decades to challenge, not invite. There are too many long par 4s meant to knock recreational golfers to their knees, to repel shots instead of receive them. Too many five-hour rounds across the traditional 18 holes. The game is often too much quest, not enough quip.”
  • “Thankfully, a handful of folks are working coast-to-coast to put the giggle back in hit-and-giggle. Their efforts include reversible 18-hole courses, nine-hole courses that beg for another loop, par-3 courses that take less than an hour and offer some of the most fun greens in the game, even a 7-hole hilltop course that redefines rustic and offers goats as caddies. Different can be good … very good.”
  • “The best part of my year in golf was getting to visit a few of these spots. From Florida to Oregon with stops along the way, there were several new layouts, or even recently redesigned and repurposed spots, that eschew the traditional 18-hole, par-72 layout to offer breezy, engaging and different opportunities to swing a club and prove that the game can be more than the same old same old.”
7. The evolution of golf recruiting
Kevin Casey, undisputed MVP of today’s Morning 9, wrote about the changes in the junior golf and college golf recruiting landscape.
  • “Even as national attention has jumped at the junior level, names such as Bryson DeChambeau, Aaron Wise and Maverick McNealy thrived despite playing a more localized junior schedule. Suh himself played sparingly outside his native California as a junior, yet he has been college golf’s top-ranked player at times.”
  • “Ricky Castillo has had to play a limited national schedule, but that didn’t stop the Florida signee from ranking No. 1 in the Class of 2019.”
  • “Forces for a big national schedule are strong, but expect local junior golfers to continue to find success.”
  • “One reason is financial. Playing an extensive national schedule quickly gets expensive. One payoff for all the travel would seem to be much higher odds at a big college scholarship, but those aren’t as plentiful as one might assume.”
8. Why golf coaching works

Our Matthew Lindberg...”In 2017, I heard a podcast featuring Will Robins who was talking about the same concept and making the distinction between coaching and instruction. I believed in what he was talking about, and what separated a coach from a traditional instructor. It is exactly what I thought all along. I joined Will’s consulting group in 2017, and started to better implement what it meant to be a coach. With Will’s guidance the results I was able to achieve by fully committing to the Coaching Model speak for themselves. Coaching clearly works at all levels, let me tell you why.”

  • Among his reasons: “It gives the student what they need, not what they want…Traditional golf instruction became so heavily focused on “customer service” and giving the student what they wanted, that it lost sight of the overall result. In order to achieve those great results, I believe in giving my students what they need. A perfect example of this is a personal trainer. Let’s say you have a wedding to go to in 2 months and you need to lose 10 lbs. That trainer is going to get you up early, make you stick to eating healthy, and make you sore after every workout to achieve the desired result. Then at the wedding, you love your personal trainer because you look and feel great. However, if that same trainer lets you dictate what you will eat, what you’ll work on during workouts, and when you’ll come back next, the trainer will fail miserably. In other words he is paid to give you what you NEED, to get you the result you want.”
9. Digest’s best illustrations of ’18
Fun stuff from the folks at GD as they round up some of the best artwork from the magazine this past year.
  • The image below is from their ranking of the best athlete golfers.
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  1. CaoNiMa

    Jan 1, 2019 at 12:40 am

    Earl:
    “Now boy, to be successful and to be a man, ya gotta get laid as much as possible. Ya hear? Do as I do and learn from it boy.”
    Eldrick:
    “Yes dad.”

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5 things we learned on Saturday at the U.S. Open

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How much of a deficit is too much to close, on day four? Gary Woodland posted his third-consecutive round in the 60s, maintaining position at the top of the leader board. Justin Rose did more than keep pace with his playing partner, however. He shaved one stroke off the leader’s advantage, ending the day one shot off Woodland’s 11-under pace. Next came Brooks Koepka. That guy. Like Woodland, Koepka has also visited the 60s during each round, the only other golfer in the field to do so.

Stories of contenders are plentiful, just not as many as we held on Friday evening. The 2019 United States Open championship is drawing to a close, with no indication of its resolution. Still, at least five things became more apparent on Saturday, and we’ve selected a quintet of factors that might reveal the next national champion of the USA. Here we go.

5. Contenders make putts

They say that poa annua, the grass that inhabits the putting surfaces of Pebble Beach, opens up as the day progresses, making smooth runs bumpy. Even in the late afternoon, when the poa does growa, the golfers in contention find a way to get the ball in the hole. Rolls from all distances, from every corner of every green, found their way to the bottom of the cup in round three.

Chez Reavie and Gary Woodland made bombs for par from over 40 feet. Justin Rose tamed short, twisty snakes for birdie. As valuable as those putts were today, to keep golfers in contention, they will be worth their weight in gold on Sunday. On day four, made putts might be the stroke that propels someone toward a major title.

4. Contenders get up and down … or sometimes, just down

The bunker sand at Pebble Beach hasn’t varied from the sort that the PGA Tour encounters each February. Weird, I know, but sometimes a course trades out the usual sand for something USGA-funky. A disproportionate number of hole-outs and near-misses from sand has happened this week. Perhaps it’s the cream rising to the top, or maybe it’s the sand. Who knows?

The gnarly, snaggly rough appears ferocious, yet somehow, these golfers are able to decode its parameters. As for chips and pitches from tight lies, how welcome are they? Put a wedge in the hands of the leaders, and it’s as good as a putter. In 1982, Tom Watson’s hole-out from beyond 17 green was unprecedented. Anticipate 3 or 4 of those tomorrow, epic shots that define a championship.

3. Contenders get it done on the opening 7 holes

The announcers have belabored the point of Pebble’s two faces: holes one through seven, then all the rest. It’s a point worth belaboring. The USGA has set up the fourth to be drivable as a par 4, affording an opportunity for golfers to begin with a bang. A drive in the fairway at one and three leaves short iron or wedge for the approach. Six is a reachable par 5 that shows no shame in giving up eagle after eagle to the daring strike. Seven has been docile all week, with little wind to distract the wee pitch shots that fly like darts at the flag. If you get yourself 4-under after seven on Sunday, you’ll find yourself near the lead or clear of the field. If you don’t, as Tiger Woods did Saturday, playing the opening 7 in 1 over, you’ll drift away as a statistic.

2. Contenders get something done over the difficult stretch

You have to go all the way to Matt Wallace, the last golfer listed at T9, to find a double bogey on a score card. While the stretch from 8 to 18 is daunting, it is not unmanageable. In fact, it must be managed to remain in contention. Big numbers receive a one-way ticket away from Monterey. So, too, do extended runs of bogey.

The top 15 golfers (save one) shot between 1 and 4 under on Saturday. Matt Wallace, at even par, was the exception. It doesn’t seem that a low 60s number on Sunday is in the offing, but that’s what they said in 1973, at Oakmont. The top two will battle each other, while the rest of the field will hope for lightning to strike.

1. What to make of Gary Woodland?

He hasn’t gone away. To the contrary, he sits atop the field for a second-consecutive evening. Is Gary Woodland, finally, major material? He was supposed to be the next brawny basher, until Brooks Koepka showed up. Woodland scrambled his tail off on Saturday, missing seven of 11 greens, but making just one bogey. He three-whacked the 8th green from an inch onto the back fringe, after a massive misread of the first putt’s break. Other than that, he was brilliant each time momentum prepared to shift.

Can he fight momentum shifts for a second consecutive day, when he will again pair with the elegant Justin Rose? He will have to, for he must beat them all in order to wear the crown. Somewhere in Arizona, Amy Bockerstette is pulling for him to do just that.

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Why players are living so far under par

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The PGA Tour’s tagline is “Live Under Par,” and every week we see the best players in the world take on courses set up to challenge them as much as possible. Even on these difficult courses, with pin positions tucked around greens and rough grown out beyond what many regular golfers might ever experience, we still see the pros who are playing their best get way under par and often break scoring records.

But how and why does this happen week after week? Are these courses just not challenging enough? Are players really that good? (“These Guys are Good” was the tour’s previous motto, after all)

Let’s break down a few factors that relate to scoring on the PGA Tour and why we keep seeing low scores on an almost weekly basis.

First off, we have the length. It’s not a guarantee that more length equals higher scores. Pebble Beach under U.S. Open conditions is a great example of that, but if we are to use a recent example, at Hamilton Golf & CC (host course to the RBC Canadian Open), we saw Brandt Snedeker shoot 60 during his Friday morning round, and multiple rounds in the low 60s. Hamilton is not a long course by modern PGA Tour standards, but on a day with some benign pins, little wind, and slower, softer greens (thanks to a wet week leading up), it’s a perfect scenario for someone to make a score. On top of that, to finish off the tournament we saw Rory McIlroy get on a total heater Sunday afternoon to shot 61 – with a bogey at the last, and win by 7 – yes 7!

Rough. As we saw at the PGA Championship this year at Bethpage Black, length plus rough means that you are going to eliminate more than half the field before the tournament even starts. It’s the exact reason we saw the bomber-filled leaderboard that we did.

On the opposite end of the spectrum a dry Open Championship often proves that tightly mown areas actually pose a greater risk to players than rough, since once a ball starts rolling, there is no telling where and when it’s going to stop – although a hazard is usually the answer. Average length rough around the greens makes chipping and pitching difficult, and when you add in the fact that as the week goes on the pins get closer to slopes and edges, it’s a recipe for those having the best week with their irons having the best chance to take home the trophy.

Player skill. This is the X-Factor. No matter what you do to the course fans need to realize that week to week, you have the world’s best players taking their games to every tournament. It all comes down to a numbers game. Half aren’t going to make the cut, 35 percent are going to play well but miss some putts, and the final 15 percent are going to have their games peaking and be inside the top ten.

Within that 15 percent, one or two of those players are going to be firing on all cylinders, and if you are a casual observer, that’s all you really get to see on TV, the guys on fire like Rory this past Sunday at the Canadian Open.

 

 

 

 

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5 things we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open

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If the weather forecast is to be believed, the next 48 hours of Pebble Beach weather will be a blend of cloudy, partly cloudy, and mostly cloudy skies. Rain will never have less than a 10 percent chance of falling, but never more than 20 percent. Winds will peak at 11 mph, dropping to three mph, blowing from west to east, at a variety of angles. What that consistent weather forecast means, is that golf will not be consistent.

The USGA should not need to water the greens, which means that they will slowly firm up, forcing golfers to be even more precise in the changing landing spots they select. It means that anyone who shoots the score of 65 (that was low each of the first two days), will find himself in the thick of the chase. For now, let’s take a brief look back at five things that we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open.

5. The numbers

79 golfers made the cut at 2 over, 11 shots behind the leader. Eight golfers missed the cut by one stroke, while 24 others made the cut on the number. Of the 79, four are amateurs, at 2 over, E, E and 2 under, respectively. That foursome will do battle for its own tournament medal, although none is expected to challenge for the overall championship trophy. Rhys Enoch had an 11-stroke turnaround, from 77 to 66, to make the cut on the number.

Rickie Fowler went 12 strokes the other way, from 66 to 78, to move from squarely in title contention, to 10 shots off the lead. Pebble Beach showed no favoritism to either wave, morning or afternoon. Low and high scores came during each. What Pebble Beach did do, was fray the nerves and distract the attention of the competition. The first act is now complete.

4. Brooks Koepka looks like…Brooks Koepka

True to his word, Koepka doesn’t change much. No soaring highs, no crashing lows…yet. The U.S. Open Champion of 2017 and 18, who is also the PGA Champion of 2018 and 19, stands at 4 under par, tied with four others in sixth place,  five shots behind the leader. Of the nine golfers between him and the top, three have won major titles, none since 2014. Only one of them, Rory McIlroy, has won the U.S. Open, and his win came on a rain-softened Congressional course in 2011.

Besides McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson at 1 under, and Tiger Woods at even par, no other golfer in the field has more than one major championship to his credit. It’s a wide-open weekend, so why shouldn’t Koepka have as much say as anyone in the outcome? The defending champion had half as many birdies (six to three) on Friday, but one-third as many bogies (three to one). It’s that second number that will weigh heavily on his result. The fewer the mistakes, the more likely the victory.

3. A Rose by any other name … needs another major title

In 2016, Justin Rose won the Olympic gold medal, a unique achievement in his generation. Problem is, no one knows where it ranks in terms of tournament victories. In 2017, Rose went into a playoff at Augusta National with Sergio Garcia, but came out a runner-up. The Englishman has won 24 times around the globe but lists just the 2013 U.S. Open in his major victories column.

In terms of a place in history, he needs more than one. Rose sits tied with Dustin Johnson, Jerry Pate, Henry Picard and a hundredfold of other champions of a solitary grand slam event. Trouble is, Rose’s long game is not at its best. His putting is sublime, but his driver is wayward, and his iron game, misguided. Do Aaron Wise, Chez Reavie and Chesson Hadley pose a threat to the man currently in 2nd place? Probably not. It’s the Oosthuizens, the McIlroys and, of course, the Koepkas that demand that Rose preserve his pristine putting stroke, while getting his long game in order. This is the elite of the elite, after all. No excuses, no margin for error.

2. Will the U.S. Open see another, first-time major champion?

Five of the last seven U.S. Open champions had not previously won a major title. Two of the last three Open champions at Pebble Beach (Graeme McDowell in 2010 and Tom Kite in 1992) made the Open their first major victory. For those reasons alone, names like Wise, Hadley, Reavie, Kuchar, and Wallace should not be eliminated from consideration this weekend.

True, the U.S. Open environment is a cauldron of pressure, increasing in constriction as each nine holes passes. At the same time, Koepka, Johnson, Kaymer, Rose and Simpson each had to find something yet unknown, to push aside the detractors and gain admission to the exclusive club of Open champions. Pebble Beach is a known commodity to PGA Tour regulars, so the putting might not be the greatest concern of the final 36 holes.

What will come into play, are the playing corridors. Fairways essentially cut in half, pushed left and right toward hazards and other dangers, a fraction of the width normally seen in February. The sure thing is that there is no certainty. The holder of the champion’s silver come Sunday might as soon be a first-timer as a repeat winner. Time will tell. After all, things like this could happen to anyone.

1. Gary Woodland is in uncharted territory

On the bright side, Gary Woodland played around Pebble Beach in 65 strokes on Friday. Six birdies against zero bogeys added up to the low round of the day and a two-shot advantage over Justin Rose. Also on the bright side, Woodland has hit 22 of 28 fairways, and 26 of 36 greens in regulation over the first two days. The leader has three PGA Tour titles to his credit, including Phoenix in 2018.

On paper, Woodland looks like a good bet to hoist the trophy on Sunday. That’s where the confidence begins to wane. Woodland’s track record in major events is improving, with consecutive top-10 finishes in the 2018 and 2019 PGA Championships. His best U.S. Open finish, though, was eight years ago, his only top-30 finish in the event. Woodland tees it up on Saturday in the final pairing, with the 2013 U.S. Open champion. No time like the present to find out if a step to the next level is in the offing.

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