Ryder Cup “What if”s

Phil Mickelson watches as teammate Keegan Bradley tees off on #4 during Day 1 action at the 2012 Ryder Cup.

There are still a lot of “what if”s floating around after the monumental final day collapse of Team USA at the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah.  The two biggest are why send the winless  Steve Stricker and Tiger Woods out in the last two pairings on Sunday, and should the seemingly unstoppable team of Phil Mickelson and Keegan Bradley have played the Saturday afternoon Fourball?

Woods and Stricker first.  With a 10-6 U.S. lead going into the Sunday singles, if everything had gone according to plan, the Cup should have been decided in favor of the American side long before the last two matches of the day, thus making those matches virtually meaningless.  Captain Davis Love III’s decision there seems like a no-brainer.

The tougher call was sitting the U.S.’s hottest duo Saturday afternoon after going undefeated in their previous three matches.  All indications are that it was Mickelson’s idea to have him and Bradley take the afternoon off, telling Keegan Saturday morning to give it all he had because they weren’t going to play in the afternoon – even informing Love at their 10th hole that they would be too physically and emotionally spent to play that day’s Fourballs.  That whole line of thinking may have been premature, given that the team ended up playing only 12 holes that day, posting a 7&6 spanking of Europeans Lee Westwood and Luke Donald in the morning Foursomes.

But for all those saying Mickelson and Bradley should have played the Saturday Fourballs, answer this: Which American team should have sat out?  Had Phil and Keegan played instead of Dustin Johnson/Matt Kuchar or Bubba Watson/Webb Simpson and won, it simply would have been a wash, because both of those teams won their matches.  It probably wouldn’t have been in place of Woods and Stricker.  It was controversial enough that they sat out the morning session (Tiger’s first missed Ryder Cup session ever).  So that leaves the team of Jason Dufner and Zack Johnson.  A decision to sit Dufner and Johnson would have been almost as controversial as sitting Mickelson and Bradley.  By the end of Saturday morning’s Foursomes, Dufner and Johnson were also undefeated at 2-0, beating Westwood and Francesco Molinari 3&2 Friday morning and Nicolas Colsaerts and Sergio Garcia 2&1 Saturday morning.

Whether or not Phil and Keegan playing Saturday afternoon would have made any difference in the outcome, we’ll never know.  But I do take issue with Mickelson’s reasoning for not wanting to play all five matches.  After his Saturday morning match, Phil cited Ryder Cup history, pointing out that traditionally, those players that play all five matches don’t fare well in Sunday Singles.  In an eerily ironic twist, the only two players to play all five matches at Medinah, Europe’s Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, both won their Singles matches… over Bradley and Mickelson, respectively.

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Longtime Caddie Returns to Crooked Stick

In an earlier post about the differences between the 1991 PGA Championship and the 2012 BMW Championship both held at Crooked Stick, “The PGA Tour & Crooked Stick: Then and Now”, we speculated that it was highly unlikely that any player who competed in the ’91 PGA would qualify for the ’12 BMW.  That ended up being the case.  However, there is at least one person who was inside the ropes 21 years ago who is back in the same position this year.  Longtime PGA Tour caddie Tony Navarro.

Tony Navarro

Navarro is probably best known for being on Greg Norman’s bag for many years.  And most recently looped for another Aussie, Adam Scott.  At this week’s BMW Championship, he’s working for Bud Cauley.  But at the ’91 PGA he was caddieing for Jeff Sluman (who tied for 61st back then).  When asked if he remembered the course, Navarro admitted, “Not really.  I remember it was long.”  Which is true.  At the time, Crooked Stick played as one of the longest courses in championship history.  When it was pointed out that it’s even longer now, the veteran caddie said, “Yeah, but it’s not playing as long.  The guys are hitting it a lot farther now.”  Which he attributes to the technological advances of the ball.

“Sure, the players are better conditioned now,” he continued.  “And they have all the launch angle and spin rate stuff.  But the balls are just hotter.”

Already one of the best-liked caddies around, Navarro further endeared himself to golf fans for what he did at the recent Wyndham Championship.  With Navarro on the bag, Bud Cauley was in the final group with eventual winner Sergio Garcia.  Garcia had just split with his caddie and had a young local caddie, David Faircloth, working for him that week.  On the 18th green as Garcia was about to win his first PGA Tour tournament in four years, Navarro could see how overwhelmed Faircloth was.  Navarro unscrewed the flag from the 18th pin and gave the flag to Faircloth, saying, “Well done this week.  This is yours.”

Navarro later told the New York Times, “That flag is kind of our trophy.  I figured he didn’t know, so I just did the right thing and gave it to him.”

Welcome back to Crooked Stick, Tony.

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Worst Player to Win a Major

The title of “Best Player Without a Major” is a debate that has kept 19th holes buzzing for years.  Davis Love III wore that crown until the 1997 PGA Championship.  Phil Mickelson got the monkey off his back with the 2004 Masters.  Current players now vying for the dubious title include Lee Westwood, Luke Donald, maybe Steve Stricker, although he’s getting a little long in the tooth to legitimately expect to check a major off his bucket list.  Sergio Garcia’s time has probably come and gone, as well.

Mickelson sans monkey.

The underlying concept of the BPWAM is that a player has shown a considerable amount of success or potential without getting that breakthrough victory at the Masters, US Open, British Open or PGA.  For instance, DL III had 10 PGA Tour wins before his ’97 PGA.  It took Phil an astounding 22 victories before securing his first green jacket.  But let’s look at the other side of that coin.  A player that comes out of nowhere to win a major, then just as quickly returns to relative obscurity, never to see real success again.  We’ll call him, “Worst Player WITH a Major”.


Beem: “I’m alright. Nobody worry ’bout me”.

Rich Beem had only two wins on tour before capturing the 2002 PGA Championship.  He hasn’t hoisted a trophy, major or otherwise, since (which is probably a good thing, considering the extraordinarily awkward victory dance he did at the PGA.  He looked like the gopher from Caddyshack).  Indiana University product Shaun Micheel has only one tour win to his credit.  But he made it a big one, the 2003 PGA Championship.  In the cases of Beem and Micheel, even though they’ve only won one major, they did at least crack double digits in Top 10 finishes in other PGA Tour events: 18 and 20 respectively.

Hamilton: One and Done.

Perhaps the “Worst Player WITH a Major” title goes to 2004 British Open champion Todd Hamilton.  2004 was actually a good year for Hamilton.  Earlier that season he won the Honda Classic, then followed it up with the British.  But since then, not only has he not had another win on tour, he only has 6 career Top 10 finishes.

We’d love to hear who you think deserves the title of Worst Player WITH a Major.  And please visit our website at www.IndianaGolfOnline.com

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The PGA Tour & Crooked Stick: Then and Now

The finishing hole at Crooked Stick Golf Club, Carmel, IN.

When the PGA Tour stops in Carmel, Indiana for the 2012 BMW Championship at Crooked Stick GC, Sept. 6-9, it will be the first time since the 1991 PGA Championship on that same course that the PGA Tour has held an event in Indiana.  (Okay, technically the PGA Championship is staged by the PGA of America, but let’s not quibble).  How much has changed in the ensuing 21 years and how will the course and the players be different?

The course? Amazingly, not so much.  For the 2012 BMW Championship, Crooked Stick will play to 7516 yards, barely more than 200 yards longer than the 7289 yards for the ’91 PGA.  A small change by today’s standards.  But recall, at the time, the ’91 PGA was one of the longest courses in major championship history.  This year, of the four par-3s, only one will be less than 200 yards.  That length should mitigate somewhat the rather benign par-5s, three of which should be reachable in two by most of today’s players.

As for the players, although a handful from that ’91 championship are still active on the tour today, it’s unlikely that any of them will make the return trip to Pete Dye’s central Indiana gem for the third round of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.  Rocco Mediate (T16), Fred Couples (T27) and Davis Love III (T32) all competed at Crooked Stick 21 years ago, but none of them are inside the top 150 in the FedEx Cup point standings as of now.  To give you an idea of how far removed from that ’91 PGA Championship we are, here are the top 11 finishers behind winner John Daly:  Bruce Lietzke, Jim Gallagher, Jr., Kenny Knox, Bob Gilder, Steve Richardson, David Feherty (yes, THE David Feherty), Raymond Floyd, John Huston, Steve Pate, Craig Stadler and Hal “Be the right club, today!” Sutton.  How about those blast-from-the-past names, huh?  Not only were most of today’s best players not even playing golf in 1991, the biggest hazard the likes of Rory McIlroy and Ricky Fowler were facing was diaper rash.  By the way, that T7 for Feherty was his best finish in a major on this side of the pond.  He finished T4 at the ’94 British Open.

John Daly highs and lows: Left, in 1991. Right, in jail.

And Daly?  Well, even if he hadn’t made a mess of his life (see photo), he probably still wouldn’t be a factor at this year’s BMW.

One more big difference from 1991 to now.  The winner of this year’s BMW Championship will take home nearly $1.5 million.  That’s more than the total purse of $1.35 million for the ’91 PGA Championship.

See you in September.

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Mental Toughness: An Interview with Dr. Rob Bell

“Competitive golf is played mainly on a five-and-a-half inch course — the space between your ears.”  That was Bobby Jones’ assessment of the importance of the mental aspect of golf.  That quip from nearly 80 years ago is still relevant today, as golfers of every skill level battle their inner demons to try to shave a stroke or two off their handicap.  Or turn a runner-up finish into a major championship.

Former Ball State University professor Dr. Rob Bell has combined research and his experience as an AASP certified sport psychology consultant in a new book on the mental side of golf called, Mental Toughness: Training For Golf.  Dr. Bell says the same mental techniques that help in golf, translate to other sports, as well.

“The universal truth in all of sports is ‘It’s always the next play’,” said Dr. Bell.  “If our mind is stuck on the last play or the last game or the last hole or the last shot, then we’re really not giving our full attention to this shot.”  Focus, he says, is important.  But it’s really the ability to re-focus that makes the difference.  To that end, Dr. Bell believes it’s important to have a good mental preshot routine, combined with the physical routine.  “It’s easy to do the physical motion,” he says.  “But it’s our thought process.  Our ability to have a plan and then walking into the shot and staying committed to the line of that putt or the exact shot that we’re doing and not having any thoughts enter your head.”  Dr. Bell continued, “You don’t have a good preshot routine if you’re thinking about anything other than where this shot is going”.

Which leads to the concept of swing thoughts.  It seems most instructors want you to have one simple, consistent swing thought.  But Dr. Bell feels even one swing thought is still one too many.  “When we’re confident, what do we think about?  Nothing,” he says.  “But when we’re not confident, we’re thinking about all the things that need to happen or everything that could go wrong.”  According to Dr. Bell, ” We think about nothing when we’re playing well.  That’s what we have to get to when we’re not playing well.”

One of the most well known manifestations of a golfer’s mental breakdown is the yips.  Defined as the apparent loss of fine motor skills seemingly without explanation, the yips have been observed perhaps most famously in Tom Watson and Bernhard Langer.  Dr. Bell has found that the yips are a combination of physical and mental issues.  “Usually it starts with an involuntary flinch in the putting stroke.  Then we begin to anticipate that happening and it gets in your head,” he says.  The key to overcoming the yips is regaining confidence.  That can be done by changing putters or even changing the way we hold the putter (see Bernhard Langer).  Dr. Bell says when you feel more physically comfortable over the putt, that goes a long way to improving confidence.  “When we feel like everything’s good we make confident strokes,” he said.

Dr. Rob Bell

Dr. Bell has worked with a number of PGA TOUR-level pros and finds that the problems they are trying to overcome are essentially the same as the guys in your regular foursome.  He recalled a time some years ago while walking the driving range at a Nationwide Tour event and asking Matt Kuchar what he was working on.  Expecting something profound (from a player who would go on to become a top tour player), the response he got from Kuchar was, “My hip turn.”  Dr. Bell explained, “The mental aspects and the physical aspects are exactly the same, just at a different level.”

From the 20-handicapper to the multiple major winner, we’re all playing on that same five-and-a-half inch course.  Make sure yours is in good condition.


Dr. Bell’s book, Mental Toughness: Training For Golf is available at his website: www.drrobell.com

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Free Golf at the Super Bowl?

Mark Miles (praying for cold weather?)

Did the prospect of free golf help Indianapolis snag Super Bowl XLVI?  That’s the story according to Mark Miles, Chairman of the 2012 Super Bowl Host Committee.  At a recent gathering at the Skyline Club in Indianapolis, Miles related the story about what went into the bid process for hosting the Super Bowl.  He explained that among the countless pages of instructions that any host city has to follow were these two inquiries:


1) List the best golf courses in the area, and…

2) How much will Super Bowl visitors be charged to play those courses?

Free golf? Bring your orange balls.

Obviously, these are standard questions asked of any city vying to host the Super Bowl.  But the assumption is it’s going to be a warm-weather city.  For Indianapolis, Miles was able to easily answer the first with courses like Crooked Stick and Wolf Run.  But he said the answer to the second question was even easier: $0, counting on typical Indiana winter temperatures to make the courses unplayable.  He said he couldn’t be sure that the prospect of free golf was the deciding factor for the NFL’s selection committee.  Asked later if Indy should get an unseasonable warm spell during Super Bowl week would he stand by his free golf offer, Miles said, “Sure”.

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Let 2012 Golf Begin!

With a thin layer of snow covering the tees and greens and temperatures hovering in the low 20’s, golfers here in Indiana have to get our golf vicariously.  That’s why we’re looking forward to the beginning of the PGA Tour season this week.  Stories abound:  Will Tiger get his golf groove back after a decent showing at The Presidents Cup and winning his own limited-field event?  Ditto for Lefty, whose disappointing 2011 featured only one win (Shell Houston Open).  Can Rory McIlroy continue his ascent now that he’s back on the American tour full time?  And will Webb Simpson and Keegan Bradley pick up where they left off after late-season heroics (Bradley, the PGA Championship; Simpson, two wins in the three weeks following the PGA).  This year, Hoosier golf fans have something else to look forward to, as well, as the PGA Tour brings the FedEx Cup through the state with the BMW Championship hosted by Crooked Stick Golf Club in September.

So let the fun begin!  It starts this Friday with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii.  Yes, Friday… with a Monday primetime finish.

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