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Opinion & Analysis

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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Gear Dive: Mizuno’s Chris Voshall speaks on Brooks Koepka’s U.S. Open-winning irons

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Mizuno’s Chief Engineer Chris Voshall speaks on how Brooks Koepka was the one that almost got away, and why Mizuno irons are still secretly the most popular on Tour. Also, a couple of Tiger/Rory nuggets that may surprise a few people. It’s an hour geek-out with one of the true gems in the club biz. Enjoy!

Related: Brooks Koepka’s Winning WITB from the 2018 U.S. Open

Listen to the full podcast below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Opinion & Analysis

Hear It, Feel It, Believe It: A Better Bunker Method

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The following is an excerpt from Mike Dowd‘s upcoming novel, “Coming Home.” 

After picking the last of the balls on the driving range, Tyler cornered Mack as he hit a few shots from the old practice bunker to wind down at the end of the day. Mack was hitting one after another, alternating between the three flags on the practice green and tossing them up about as softly as if he was actually lobbing them each up there underhanded.

Tyler just stood there, mesmerized at first by the mindless ease with which Mack executed the shot. Bunker shots, Tyler silently lamented, were likely the biggest hole in his game, and so after Mack had holed his third ball in a couple of dozen, Tyler finally decided he had to ask him a question.

“What are you thinking about on that shot, Mack?” Tyler interrupted him suddenly.

Mack hit one more that just lipped out of the closest hole, paused a few seconds, and then looked up at his protégé in what Tyler could only interpret as a look of confusion.

“What am I thinking about?” he finally replied. “I don’t know, Tyler… I’d hate to think how I’d be hittin’ ‘em if I actually started thinking.”

Tyler gave Mack a slightly exasperated look and put his hands on his hips as he shook his head. “You know what I mean. Your technique. I guess I should have said what exactly are you doing there from a mechanics standpoint? How do you get it to just land so softly and roll out without checking?”

Mack seemed to be genuinely considering Tyler’s more elaborately articulated question, and after a moment began, more slowly this time, as if he was simplifying his response for the benefit of a slightly thick-headed young student who wasn’t getting his point.

“You can’t think about technique, Tyler… at least not while you’re playing,” Mack replied. “There’s no quicker path back to your father’s garage than to start thinking while you’re swinging, especially thinking about technique. That’s my job.”

“Mack,” Tyler insisted, “How am I supposed to learn to hit that shot without understanding the technique? I’ve got to do something different than what I’m doing now. I’m putting too much spin on my shots, and I can’t always tell when it’s going to check and when it’s going to release a little. How do I fix that?”

“Well, not by thinking, certainly,” Mack fired right back as if it was the most ridiculous line of inquiry he’d ever heard. “A good bunker shot can be heard, Tyler, and felt, but you can’t do either of those if you’re focused on your technique. You feel it inside of you before you even think about actually hitting it. Watch, and listen.”

With that Mack swung down at the sand and made a thump sound as his club went through the soft upper layer of sand and bounced on the firmer sand below.

“You hear that?” Mack asked. “That’s what a good bunker shot sounds like. If you can hear it, then you can feel it. If you can feel it, then you can make it, but you can’t make that sound until you hear it first. Your body takes care o’ the rest. You don’t have to actually tell it what to do.”

Tyler still looked puzzled, but, knowing Mack as he did, this was the kind of explanation he knew he should have expected. Coach Pohl would have gone into an eight-part dissertation on grip, stance, club path, release points, weight transfer, and so forth, and Tyler suddenly realized how much he’d come to adopt his college coach’s way of thinking in the past four years. Mack though? He just said you’ve got to hear it.

“Get in here,” Mack said suddenly, gesturing to the bunker and offering the wedge to Tyler. “Now close your eyes.”

“What?!” Tyler almost protested.

“Just do it, will ya’?” Mack insisted.

“Okay, okay,” Tyler replied, humoring his coach.

“Can you hear it?” Mack asked.

“Hear what?” Tyler answered. “All I hear is you.”

“Hear that sound, that thump.” It was Mack’s turn to be exasperated now. “It was only moments ago when I made it for you. Can’t you still hear it?”

“Oh, remember it you mean,” Tyler said. “Okay, I know what you mean now. I remember it.”

“No, you obviously don’t know what I mean,” Mack replied. “I wanted to know if you can hear it, in your mind, hear the actual sound. Not remember that I’d made it. There’s a big difference.”

Tyler suddenly did feel kind of dumb. He wasn’t picking up what Mack was getting at, at least not exactly how he wanted him to get it, and so he sat there with his eyes closed and gripped the club like he was going to hit a shot, waggled it a bit as if he was getting ready, and then opened his eyes again.

“Okay,” he said suddenly. “I think I can hear it now.”

“Don’t open your eyes,” Mack almost hissed. “Now make it, make that sound. Make that thump.”

Tyler swung down sharply and buried the head of the wedge into the sand where it almost stopped before exiting.

“That’s not a thump,” Mack said shaking his head. “That’s a thud. You can’t even get the ball out with that pitiful effort. Give me that!”

He took the wedge back from Tyler and said, “Now watch and listen.”

Mack made a handful of swings at the sand, each one resulting in a soft thump as the club bottomed out and then deposited a handful of sand out of the bunker. Tyler watched each time as the head of the club came up sharply, went down again, hit the sand, and came back up abruptly in a slightly abbreviated elliptical arc. Each time Tyler listened to the sound, embedding it as he studied how the club entered and exited the sand. Mack stopped suddenly and handed the club back to Tyler.

“Now you make that sound,” he said, “and as you do remember how it feels in your hands, your forearms, your chest, and most importantly in your head.”

“What?” Tyler asked, looking back up at Mack, confused at his last comment.

“Just do it,” Mack said. “Hear it, feel it, then do it, but don’t do it before you can hear it and feel it. Now close your eyes.”

Tyler did as he was told, closing his eyes and then settling his feet in as he tried to picture in his mind what Mack had been doing. At first, he just stood there waggling the club until he could see the image in his mind of Mack hitting the sand repeatedly, and then he could hear the soft thump as the club hit the sand. He started to swing but was interrupted by Mack’s voice.

“Can you feel it?” Mack said. “Don’t go until you can feel it.”

“Well, at first I could see the image in my mind of you hitting that shot over and over again,” Tyler said, opening his eyes and looking at Mack, “and then I could hear it. It sort of followed right in behind it.”

“Ah, the image is a good starting point, but you can’t just see it and hear it, you need to feel it,” Mack replied, pointing to his head. “Feel it in here, and then you can feel it here,” he continued, putting his hands together like he was gripping a club. “Now close your eyes again.”

“Okay,” Tyler said, not sure he was getting it, but finally bought in. He settled in again and began waggling the club until he could see Mack swinging and hear the subtle thump of the sand. He let it just loop in his mind, over and over again, until suddenly he could feel it like he was the one doing it, and then he swung.

Thump came the sound as the flange of his wedge hit the sand. It was his swing, but it was different, maybe not to the naked eye, but in the speed, the level of tension, and the release. He opened his eyes again, almost tentatively, and looked at Mack with a combination of curiosity and amazement.

“I felt it that time,” Tyler said in a voice that seemed to resonate within from somewhere in the past. It almost sounded like Jackie’s in its exuberance.

“Yes… good,” Mack replied patiently. “Now close your eyes and do it again, but make sure you can feel it before you pull the trigger.”

Tyler settled in again, waited until, like the last time, he could see it, hear it, and then finally feel it… Thump… Something was slightly different this time, though, and Tyler opened his eyes to notice Mack kneeling down next to him. He had quietly deposited a ball into the place where Tyler had swung. Tyler looked up in the direction of the green and the target flag he had been aiming toward just in time to see a ball slow to a gentle stop about four inches from the flag.

“How’d you do that?” Tyler said, almost in wonder now.

“I didn’t,” Mack replied. “You did. You just had to stop thinking. See it, hear it, and feel it. Once you feel it, you can believe it. Anything more is more than we need. Any questions?”

As Mack turned to walk up out of the bunker, Tyler just stood there shaking his head a moment, looking at the spot in the sand, and then back up at the green as if to confirm the ball he’d seen roll to stop was still there. “I guess I’ve still got a lot to learn.”

“Well… yes and no,” Mack said cryptically as he turned back to look at him. “You pretty much know how to hit all the shots, Tyler. You’ve hit every one of them at one time or another. You’ve just got to learn how to empty your head of all those instructions so you can focus on finding the shot you need when you need it. It’s in there somewhere.”

“It’s hard to explain,” Tyler said, “but a lot of times I walk up and think I somehow just instinctively know what shot to hit without even thinking about it. I just kind of see it and feel it. It’s when I start to analyze things a bit more closely, factoring in all the things I know are important to consider like the wind, keeping away from the short side, where I want to putt from, and the best trajectory or shot shape for the situation, that I often start to second guess that feeling.”

“Ever heard the saying paralysis from analysis?” Mack asked. “It pretty much describes those moments.”

“Yeah, I get it,” Tyler replied, “but all that information is important. You have to consider everything and not just make a rash decision.”

“Sure, information is important, but you can’t get lost in it,” Mack countered. “Whether it’s golf, or just about anything else in life, Tyler, you need to learn to trust your gut. You’ve hit hundreds of thousands of shots in your life, Tyler. All those shots leave a mark. They leave an indelible little mark that gets filed away in your brain subconsciously, getting stacked one on top of the other. And after years of playing the game, those stacks and stacks of shots create an instinctive reaction to each situation. It’s like gravity. It pulls you in a certain direction so much that most of the time you almost know what club you should hit before you even know the yardage. Trust that, Tyler. Go with it, and know that first instinct comes from experience. There’s more wisdom in those gut reactions than just about anything else.”

“Thank you,” Tyler said after considering it a moment. “I think that’ll really help.”

“You’re welcome,” Mack replied. “Now rake that bunker for me and clean the balls off the green. I want to get things closed up before dark.”

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5 things we learned on Saturday at the 2018 U.S. Open

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Whoops, we did it again. While not as dramatic as the 7th hole concern of 2004, the Saturday of 2018 seemed eerily familiar. The commentators were divided on the question of whether the USGA was pleased with the playing conditions. The suggestion was, the grass in the rough was higher than necessary, and the cuts of the fairway and greens were just a bit too close of a shave. No matter, everyone finished and the band played on. The hashtag #KeepShinnyWeird didn’t trend, but Saturday the 16th was certainly not ordinary. Five weird things we learned, on the way.

5) Phil’s breaking point

It wasn’t violent. No outburst or hysteria. We’d seen Phil leap in triumph at Augusta. Now we’ve seen the Mickelson jog, albeit under most different circumstances. Near as we can determine, for a moment Phil forgot that he was playing a U.S. Open. After belting a downhill, sliding bogey putt well past the mark, the left-handed one discerned that the orb would not come to rest for quite some time: a lower tier beckoned. As if dancing a Tarantella, Phil sprang toward the ball and gave it a spank while still it moved. Just like that, his quadruple-bogey 8 become a 10, thanks to the 2 strokes for striking a moving ball penalty. In true warrior fashion, Mickelson accepted the penalty without questions, intimating that it saved him another stroke or two in the end. Yeesh. Phil, we feel you.

4) DJ’s front-nine free fall

Just as unlikely as Phil’s whack-and-walk was Dustin Johnson’s front nine of 41. The cool gunslinger of Thursday-Friday faced the same turmoil as the other 66 golfers remaining, and the outward nine did not go according to his plan. DJ got past the opening hole with par, after making bogey there on Friday. Number two was another story. Double bogey on the long par three was followed by 4 bogeys in 5 holes, beginning with the 4th. The irony once again was, Johnson struggled on holes that the field did not necessarily find difficult. Hole No. 2 was the 10th-ranked hole for difficulty on day 3, while 4 and 7 were 13th and 11th-ranked, respectively. Hole No. 6 and 8 did fall in the more difficult half, but not by much. At day’s end, however, the tall drink of water remained in contention for his second U.S. Open title.

3) The firm of Berger and Finau

Each likely anticipated no more than a top-15 placing after 3 days, despite posting the two low rounds of the day, 4-under 66. Those efforts brought them from +7 to +3 for the tournament, but Johnson and the other leaders had yet to tee off. Every indication was lower and deeper; then the winds picked up, blustery like the 100 acre wood of Winnie The Pooh. Both golfers posted 6 birdies against 2 bogeys, to play themselves into the cauldron of contention. Berger has one top-10 finish in major events, while Finau has 2. None of those three came in a U.S. Open, so a win tomorrow by either golfer would qualify as an absolute shock.

2) Recent winners fared well

In addition to Johnson, the 2016 champion, Justin Rose (2013) and Brooks Koepka (2017) found themselves near or in the lead for most of the afternoon. Since Shinnecock Hills offers much of what characterizes links golf, it should come as no surprise that 2016 British Open champion Henrik Stenson is also within a handful of strokes of the top spot. Rose played the best tee-to-green golf of the leaders on Saturday, but was unable to coax legitimate birdie efforts from his putter. Koepka was the most impressive putter of the day, making up to 60-feet bombs and consistently holing the clutch par saves. On another note, given his victories at Chambers Bay (2015 U.S. Open) and Royal Birkdale (2017 British Open), the missed cut by Jordan Spieth was the week’s biggest surprise.

1) The wind

The most unpredictable of nature’s weapons, the winds of Shinnecock Hills exposed flaws in the course preparation. Areas that would have held off-line putts, were dried out enough to escort those efforts off the shortest grass, into the runoff compartments. The zephyrs pushed tee balls and approach shots just far enough astray to bring all the danger zones into the recipe. Prediction for tomorrow is, any golfer within 5 shots of the lead has a chance at the title. A Miller-esque round of 63 would bring anyone into contention, if the wind continues to blow. No event appreciates drama more than the U.S. Open, and Sunday at Shinnecock promises plenty of it.

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