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Top 5 “falls” into golf’s sinkhole

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By now, you have probably heard of Mark Mihal, the golfer who recently fell 18 feet into a sinkhole while playing his favorite muni course in Waterloo, Ill. Mihal was walking the course with friends and playing No. 14 when the ground literally gave way under his feet.

“I felt the ground start to collapse and it happened so fast that I couldn’t do anything,” Mihal wrote on his website. “I reached for the ground as I was going down and it gave way, too. It seemed like I was falling for a long time. The real scary part was I didn’t know when I would hit bottom and what I would land on.”

Mihal was incredibly lucky; he was one of the few people to fall into the Sinkhole of Golf and come out of it intact. But over the years there have been other “SOG” victims who haven’t been so lucky.

Enjoy my list of the top 5 golfers who have fallen into the Sinkhole of Golf.

No. 5 — Chip Beck

Chip Beck

A four-time winner on the PGA Tour, the straight-hitting Beck was hailed for his stellar play and the “War by the Shore I” Ryder Cup at Kiawah Island, S.C., in 1991. But he was best known for being one of just a handful of players to shoot a 59 in competition, with Beck’s coming in the third round of the 1991 Las Vegas Invitational. Perhaps a sign of the horror to come was the fact that that Beck finished third in that tournament. It was in 1997 that Beck fell into the Sinkhole of Golf, missing 46 straight cuts. Rumor has it that Beck escaped and is now leading a happy life on the Champions Tour, where you don’t have nearly so far to fall.

No. 4 — Ian Baker-Finch

Ian Baker-Finch

The likeable Aussie was a solid player on four continents, with his first PGA Tour win coming at the Southwest Bell Colonial in 1989. By 1991, he appeared ready to establish himself as one of the best in the game, garnering the British Open that year along with three other runner-up finishes. But by 1993, Baker-Finch’s tinkering with his swing led him to the edge of the Sinkhole. In 1995, he fell in headfirst.

In first round of the 1995 Open Championship at St Andrews, he hooked his first tee-shot of the championship out-of-bounds on the left side of the fairway shared with No. 18. To make it even worse, Baker-Finch was paired with none other than Arnold Palmer, who was competing in his final Open. Baker-Finch didn’t know it at the time but it was petty close to being his swan song as well. In 1995 and 1996 he missed the cut, withdrew after one round, or was disqualified in all 29 Tour events that he entered. The more cruel in the press began to refer to him as, “Ian Baker-Flinch.

Baker-Finch hit the bottom of the Sinkhole in the first round of the 1997 British Open at Royal Troon. He shot a 92 in the first round, after which he curled up in the corner with his wife and caddy and had a good cry. He withdrew and retired from tournament golf. The happy ending came when the good folks at ABC tossed Finchy a long cable with a microphone attached to it, which he used to pull himself out and pursue a career of describing golfers people who have avoided the Sinkhole.

No. 3 — Sergio Garcia

Sergio Garica

In his teens and early twenties, Garcia was slated as a potential rival to Tiger Woods’ dominance. He burst on the scene in the 1999, turning pro after shooting the low amateur score in that year’s Masters. He won the Irish Open and then set the world on fire in the 1999 PGA Championship, taking eventual champion Woods to the limit as he scissor-kicked his way into the hearts and minds of golf fans all over the world.

Garcia seemed a lock to win multiple championships even in the Woods era, but it was not to be. One of the most memorable moments of Garcia’s career is the footage of him re-gripping as many as 60 times over a shot at the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black. The brutally honest New York crowd ribbed Garcia mercilessly for his time-consuming psycho-crutch.

But it was Garcia’s reputation as the worst young putter under pressure in a generation that consigned him to his place in the Sinkhole. While he has shown signs of life and has won in Europe and in the States, it is his lack of major championship success that keeps him underground.  To his credit, while in the Sinkhole, Garcia managed to dig a tunnel that exits into Europe, where he has appeared every two years for the Ryder Cup as leading player and spirited assistant captain.

No. 2 — John Daly

John Daly

Just hearing the name evokes visions of long drives and bad pants. Long John is perhaps the most regrettable victim of the Sinkhole. A strapping Arkansas country boy, Daly has been called a player with more natural ability than Woods himself. Daly was a complete unknown at the beginning of the 1991 PGA Championship at Crooked Stick when he entered the event as he ninth alternate; by the end of it he had won his first tournament, his first major and he was he most popular golfer in the world. Daly combined impossibly long drives with the soft hands of a surgeon; he also had a world-class mullet.

His second Tour victory was also his second major, a playoff win in the 1995 British Open. But unfortunately, the tales of woe for Daly far outnumber the tales of victory. Daly didn’t fall into the Sinkhole; he jumped into a Ford F-150 and drove into at 100 mph. Despite a valiant rescue attempt by Ely Callaway, Daly has remained mired in the Sinkhole. He literally has more ex-wives than wins since then. He has gambled away more than most pros will ever earn. But he is remembered as one the few people who seemed to have installed a set of stairs in the Sinkhole for his private use. He emerged like a groundhog in February to grab a win or two, then retreated back to the Sinkhole, where is apparently happy as long as there is plenty of cold beer, cigarettes and Diet Coke.

No. 1 – David Duval

David Duval

Duval is the most accomplished player ever to disappear into the Sinkhole. The son of a professional golfer, Duval had success at every level he played from juniors to college to the Nike Tour on his way to his arrival on the Big Show in 1995. After racking up a slew of runner-up finishes, Duval began to win in bunches. He won 13 times between 1997 and 2001, including the Tour Championship and British Open. In April 1999, he climbed to the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Rankings, and in his victory at that year’s Bob Hope Chrysler Classic he became the only golfer ever to shoot 59 in a final round.

Duval seemed to be bouncing the golf world on the face of his wedge when it happened. He sustained injuries to his shoulder, back and wrist, as well as vertigo. When he came back, he often had no idea where the ball was going from shot to shot.

Duval’s win at the 2001 Dunlop Phoenix Tournament was to be his last. By 2003 he had fallen to 211th on the Money List. Over the course of the next 10 years, he has been trying to climb out of the Sinkhole using sponsor’s exemptions as handholds, but to no avail. He seemed to have achieved an improbable escape from SOG when he finished tied for second in the 2009 U.S. Open and the 2010 AT&T National Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Since then, however, all that has been seen of Duval is a pair of gargoyle sunglasses perched at the edge of the Sinkhole.

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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.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. tyler

    Nov 7, 2013 at 9:56 pm

    Yeah, I would probably take Garcia off this list now. He plays pretty decent most of the time now. His putting was the only thing that really let him down. He has always been a great ball striker. I’d probably put bobby clampett on this list

  2. STeve

    Apr 5, 2013 at 11:27 am

    Harrington is likeable, Garcia is not.

  3. Sam

    Mar 18, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    Why would Garcia be on this list, didn’t he win a tournament last year? Shouldn’t that count for something and that he isn’t in the “SOG” anymore? What about Padraig Harrington? He hasn’t done anything since he won his last major. He had a good couple of years (a lot of luck IMO), but since then has done nothing to redeem himself since. He should be on this list instead of Garcia.

  4. Cmasters

    Mar 16, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Maybe proofread next time,

  5. Mateo

    Mar 15, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    Wow. This list is pretty pointless and useless. Thanks.

  6. Duneman

    Mar 14, 2013 at 7:05 pm

    Duval posted a nifty 61(-10)at TPC Avenel during mid-meltdown, so his second place finish at Bethpage was not quite so surprising for me.
    Your story reminded me of another flame out….Marty Fleckman, the last amateur to “almost” win the US Open. Jerry Pate also comes to mind, seemingly on top of the world with a major and the Players Championship, then poof! Gone. Then there is the guy who had it all and just walked away….Jodie Mudd. Another favorite character, the quintessential grinder who never gave up until getting his tour card still fascinates…I’m talking about Phil “Mac” O’Grady. Anyone spot him lately? You can still find some interesting utube of him playing
    somewhat recently. What a character….suggested to the USGA he be allowed to qualify as an “amateur” playing left-handed! We all know plenty of “characters” of the links in our hometowns, so fun to see some of the same “unusual individuals” got the actual game to reach top levels, even if for just a glimpse of fame and fortune.

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Opinion & Analysis

“I Love You, Tiger!” At Big Cedar lodge, an outpouring of affection for Tiger Woods

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What a difference a year makes.

About one year ago, Tiger Woods was in Branson, Missouri at Big Cedar Lodge to announce that he was designing a golf course there; Payne’s Valley, his first public course. That day was attended by hundreds of national and local media, the Lieutenant Governor of Missouri and Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops owner and the visionary behind the amazing golf complex that has been established at Big Cedar Lodge.

That day, Woods had not played competitive golf for awhile, and he was recovering from multiple surgeries. Woods took a couple of ceremonial swings, the last of which clearly left him in physical distress. Days later, he was in surgery again and his playing career looked to be all but over. The situation became worse when Woods was arrested for driving under the influence, found with multiple substances in his system. It seemed as though the sad mug shots from that arrest might be as prominent in his legacy as the smiles and fist-pumps that accompanied his 79 wins and 14 major championships.

Fast forward to yesterday, where Woods was back in Missouri to do a Junior Clinic at Big Cedar. An estimated crowd of over 7,000 kids and parents showed up on a school day to catch a glimpse of Woods. The atmosphere was carnival-like, with sky divers, stunt planes making flyovers and rock music blaring from giant speakers. When Woods finally arrived, the reaction was electric. Mothers and their kids were chanting. “Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!” at the top of their lungs. Photographers battled soccer moms for position to get a picture of his swing. Some of the kids were as young as 6-years-old, which means that they had probably not seen Woods hit a meaningful shot in their life. At one point, when Woods was hitting shots and explaining how to execute them, a woman shouted, “I love you, Tiger!” Not to be out done, a woman on the other side of the crowd, who was their with her husband and kids, shouted “I love you more, Tiger!” Maybe the only people with more affection for Woods would be the people in the golf business. A senior marketing official in the golf industry leaned over at one point in the event and said, “God, we could use just one more from him.”

Woods swing looks completely rehabilitated. He was hitting shots of every shape and trajectory on-demand, and the driver was sending balls well past the end of the makeshift driving range set up for the event. But even more remarkable was the evidence of the recovery of his reputation. Surely there are still women out there that revile Woods for the revelations of infidelity, and no doubt there are those that still reject Woods for his legal and personal struggles. But none of them were in Missouri yesterday. Mothers and children shrieking his name confirmed what we already knew: Tiger Woods is the single most compelling person in American sports, and he belongs to golf.

Unlike a year ago, Woods is swinging well, and seems as healthy and happy as he as ever been as a pro. Add to that the unprecedented outpouring of love from crowds that once produced a combination of awe and respect, but never love. Fowler, McIlroy, Spieth and the rest may get their share of wins and Tweets, but if the game is to really grow it will be on the broad, fragile back of Tiger Woods. It’s amazing to think what can happen in one short year.

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Opinion & Analysis

12 reasons serious golfers don’t realize their potential

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What stops serious golfers from realizing their potential? If you are an amateur who wants to get better, a young player trying to achieve more, or a young professional with big dreams, this article is for you.

I’ve made a career out of helping athletes maximize their abilities, golfers in particular. And the things I see young playing professionals doing prior to our work together is often what is holding them back. The reality is that most young players, no matter what their level, have three key problems:

  1. They’re distracted by what’s not important
  2. They have no detailed structure and plan to reach the targets they determine are important to them
  3. They have no formal process to develop mindset and attitude

In the list below, I share what I see working with these young players and some common blind spots.

1. No real plan and steps to achieve targets

Most players do not know how to create a long-term and short-term plan that outlines all steps needed to reach targets. Players should have yearly plans with targets, steps and actions and weekly plans to organize/schedule their time and prioritize key needs.

2. Not focused enough on the object of the game

This goes hand in hand with No. 1. Surprisingly, players seem to forget that the object of the game is get the ball in the hole in the least amount of strokes. Trophies and checks are not issued for the best swing, the best putting stroke or most balls hit.

3. Not enough pressure in practice

Most young players have loose practice. The intensity of feelings between the practice tee and the course are too different. Focus and intensity must be a part of all practice. Add competition and outcomes to sessions so some urgency is created.

4. Too much practice time on full swing

The data is clear — most shots in golf happen from 100 yards and in from the green. If the majority of practice time is not spent on these shorter shots, practice time is wasted.

5. An obsession with the look of the swing

Players are not generally prepared to own their own swings and embrace the differences that make them unique. Obsessing over swing mechanics is a major distraction for many players. Many players convince themselves that if it doesn’t look “good” on their iPhone, their swing won’t get results.

6. No structure with the driver

Since scoring is the main goal, a consistent, reliable shape to each shot is important. My experience has been that if players are trying to go both ways with the driver, that is a sure-fire way to elevate numbers on the card. Pick a shape and eliminate one side of the course. Predictability from the tee increases a player’s confidence to put the ball in the fairway more often, creating more opportunities to score.

7. Expectation that they will hit the ball well everyday

Many players have the unreasonable expectation that they will hit lots of fairways and greens every time they play. This expectation leads to constant disappointment in their game. Knowing that the leading professionals in the game average about 60.6 percent driving accuracy and 11.8 greens in regulation per round should be a good benchmark for the expectations of all players.

8. Trying to be too robotic and precise in putting

Some players get so caught up in the mechanics of putting that their approach becomes too robotic. They become obsessed with precision and being perfect. Feel, flow and instinct have to be a central part of putting. This can get lost in an overly robotic mindset trying to be too precise and perfect.

9. No process for assessment and reflection

Players do not have a formal process for assessing practice or rounds and reflecting on the experience. The right lessons are not consistently taken away to ensure step-by-step improvement. Knowing how to assess practice, play and ask the right questions is key to development.

10. Getting in their own way

The voice inside of most young players’ heads is not helpful for their performance. It’s often a negative, demanding voice that insists on perfection. This voice leads to hesitation, frustration and anger. The voice must be shaped (with practice) into the right “emotional caddie” to support efforts and promote excellence over perfection.

11. A focus on the negative before the positive

A default to the mistakes/flaws in the round before looking at the highlights and what worked. When asked about their round, most players highlight three-putts, penalty shots and any errors before anything else. Emphasis should always be on what went well first. Refection on what needs improvement is second.

12. The blame game

Young players love excuses. Course conditions, weather, coaching and equipment are a few of the areas that are often targets, deflecting responsibility away from the player. Many players do not take full responsibility for their own game and/or careers.

I hope this provides some insights on roadblocks that could get in your way on the path to reaching your targets in the game. Whether it’s lowering your handicap, winning a junior tournament, working toward the PGA Tour — or just general improvement — considering these observations might help you shorten the road to get there.

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Opinion & Analysis

Fantasy Preview: 2018 Valero Texas Open

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With one of the weakest fields of the year, TPC San Antonio hosts the Valero Texas Open this week. Only one player from the top-20 in the Official World Golf Rankings will tee it up here. That man is Sergio Garcia, who co-designed this course with Greg Norman.

Just like last week at the RBC Heritage, the wind can wreak havoc at TPC San Antonio. The course features an exposed layout, making the level of wind is often unpredictable. Expect it to be a factor yet again this year. Unlike last week, the longer hitters do have an advantage on this course, which measuring more than 7,400 yards with little rough off the tee.

Last year, Kevin Chappell held off a charging Brooks Koepka to post 12-under par and win his first title on the PGA Tour.

Selected Tournament Odds (via Bet365)

  • Sergio Garcia 14/1
  • Matt Kuchar 18/1
  • Charley Hoffman 18/1
  • Luke List 25/1
  • Ryan Moore 28/1
  • Kevin Chappell 28/1
  • Adam Scott 30/1

From the top of the market, it’s hard not to love Luke List (25/1, DK Price $10,000) this week. The big-hitting American is still looking for his first win on the PGA Tour, but he is knocking on the door relentlessly. In his last eight events, List has finished no worse than T-26.

He was so close once again last week, and he should take plenty of confidence from that performance onto a course that theoretically should suit him much better. On this long track, List will have a significant advantage as one of the longest hitters on Tour. Over his last 24 rounds, he ranks 5th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 1st in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green. List is also flushing his irons. He was second in the field last week for Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green, and over his previous 24 rounds he sits 3rd in the same category.

It’s not only his long game that is highly proficient right now, either. List’s short game has been stellar over this impressive stretch, too. He ranks 8th for Strokes Gained-Around the Green and 28th for Strokes Gained-Short Game over his last 24 rounds.

The one department holding the big man back is his putting, where he ranks 145th for the season. The rest of his game is so sharp at the moment that he’s in the enviable position of not needing that hot a week with the flat-stick to win. He only needs an average week on the greens to finally break through and claim his first PGA Tour event. There’s nothing to suggest List isn’t going to play well once more this week, and at 25/1 he seems undervalued.

Returning to a track that he adores, Brendan Steele (33/1, DK Price $8,900) is always a danger at this event. As well as winning the title here in 2011, Steele has finished in the top-20 three times since then. Whatever it is about TPC San Antonio, it’s a course that brings out the best in Steele’s game.

It’s been an excellent season for the West Coast native, too. He won his opening event of the season at the Safeway Open and has since finished in the top-30 six times. One of the main reasons for his strong run of form has been his work with the driver. Steele is ranked 1st in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee over his last 24 rounds, and he has only failed to post a positive Strokes Gained statistic in this category once since this event last year.

Recently, Steele’s game is showing trends that he may once more be close to hitting the form that saw him win at the back end of last year. In his previous 24 rounds, the Californian is ranked 10th in Ball Striking and 7th in Strokes Gained-Total. Always a threat at this event, Steele is coming into this week with all parts of his game in sync. He should be a live threat once more in San Antonio.

Another man who has played well all year is Xander Schauffele (35/1, DK Price $8,800). The Californian has made seven of eight cuts this year, and he has finished in the top-25 in four of those occasions. Excellent off the tee, TPC San Antonio should suit the 24-year-old this week, too. Schaufelle ranks 7th in Strokes Gained-Off The Tee and 17th in Strokes Gained-Tee to Green over his last 24 rounds.

With wind likely to play a factor this week, pure ball striking will be necessary. That shouldn’t be an issue for Xander, who sits 7th in Strokes Gained-Ball Striking over his last 24 rounds. There is nothing off about Schauffele’s game right now. He ranks 21st in Strokes Gained-Putting over his previous 12 rounds and 5th in Strokes Gained-Approaching the Green over the same period. It’s only a matter of time before the two-time PGA Tour winner puts himself in the thick of contention again, and there’s no reason why it can’t be this week.

Recommended Plays

  • Luke List 25/1, DK Price $10,000
  • Brendan Steele 33/1, DK Price $8,900
  • Xander Schauffele 35/1, DK Price $8,800
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