The PGA Tour heads to Detroit this week for the Rocket Mortgage Classic at the Detroit Golf Club.
This is the first of two new events in large markets on the PGA Tour this season. Next week the Tour debuts in Minneapolis. If you’ve watched 10 minutes of golf coverage this season you’ve certainly seen the Rocket Mortgage commercial featuring Rickie Fowler and the annoying, clueless TV golf announcer guy.
Hopefully this tournament, played on an excellent course designed by Donald Ross in 1916, will be more enjoyable to watch. The layout measures 7,334 yards features tree-lined fairways with thick rough and greens with the typical Ross slope, primarily tilting from back-to-front.
Accuracy off the tee will be important and we’re keeping that in mind as we field our lineup for PGA Tour Fantasy Golf this week. Last week in Hartford was similar to other recent efforts for the Greensky Shortgrass boys. We had one or two strong contenders near the top of the leaderboard joined by a couple of golfers in the middle-of-the-pack.
Our squad is 19th (out of 866) in the Caddyshacks group on the season and 58th in the segment, which reaches the third of 11 tournaments this week.
Kevin Kisner broke par in three of four rounds in Hartford last week. Perhaps that’s a good sign he’s returning to form. Rickie Fowler ranks high in the PGA Tour Fantasy Golf driving statistics on the season. Joaquin Niemann is a superstar waiting to blossom and he arrives in Motor City on a heater as well after a lackluster season thus far. Ryan Moore continues our trend of hot golfers after a top-10 in Hartford. Brian Gay and the lovable Rory Sabbatini, enjoying a resurgence for the ages, are on the bench.
We’re adding another feature this week for those who don’t mind plunking down a dollar or two on a golf tournament on occasion. For many years this came with a For Entertainment Purposes Only warning, however, gambling is alive and legal at everywhere, so place your bets and keep it fair.
We like any head-to-head action involving Moore or Kisner, having seen favorable matchups for both sprinkled across the internet.
Gary Woodland crushed the field at Pebble Beach last week and confirmed his position among the PGA Tour’s elite. His character and heart had already been revealed. Each interaction between Woodland and Amy Bockerstette should help us all strive to become better human beings. Their friendship formed earlier this year at the Waste Management Open in Scottsdale, Arizona.
They’ve remained in touch over the last five months and Woodland took a call from her minutes after his U.S. Open champion’s press conference, telling Amy he borrowed her familiar phrase, telling himself, “you got this” as he held off Brooks Koepka down the stretch to win his first major championship.
Power gave Woodland a start on the Tour but his putting and pitching allowed him to finish last week at Pebble. He improved his short game by learning from top-flight instructors Pete Cowen and Phil Kenyon, taking what they taught him and going to work. He logged countless hours around the green improving his technique and building confidence.
Then he had to learn how to compete in major championships. Woodland missed the cut or withdrew in 9 of his first 27 major starts without a single top-10 finish. Dating back to last year’s PGA Championship, he’s finished in the top 10 in three of the last four.
Golf Channel premiered its excellent two-hour documentary, Hogan, earlier this week, blending archival footage with observations and thoughts from modern golfers and writers. The anecdotes from Dan Jenkins are especially poignant because he knew Hogan, played golf with him, wrote about him for decades. Also, Jenkins is arguably the best to ever sit down at a keyboard and write about golf. He passed away earlier this year at age 90, but not beforeleaving us with institutional knowledge of professional golf unlike any other. So we’re grateful to have his insight. The film would’ve been incomplete without him.
Through the years, I’ve read most of the Hogan biographies, been down an internet rabbit hole or two, fascinated by the compelling life story a great champion. I know the facts. How he survived poverty and his father’s suicide, persevered through a slow penniless start to his pro career, survived a horrible auto accident in early 1949 and recovered to play golf for the next four years on a level few have ever matched (although Brooks Koepka is sure trying).
Still, the images and stories in the film are fascinating.
Removing a 7-iron because it wouldn’t be necessary – at a U.S. Open at Merion of all places – only adds to the Hogan mystique. His reluctance to grant interviews and protection of his privacy make us cherish the rare moments captured on camera.
Golf Films, the documentary division of Golf Channel, produced another winner, like its in-depth looks at the lives of Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus before. I just wish they’d made it twice as long.
Watching what Hogan endured and overcame after the accident just so he could walk and then later return to tournament golf should be an inspiration to us all. I sprained my right hip last week during an overzealous workout. It was painful, aggravating and inconvenient, but healing comes in time with rest and perhaps those minor injuries are necessary on occasion. The respite reminded me to remain in tune with reality at this point in life. Sometimes, it’s wise to slow the train, cool out and reflect. So I had a bad golf round and missed a few workouts, others have climbed much steeper hills. Perseverance is perhaps the most valuable possession anybody can possess.
I wrote two pieces forThe Caddie Network last week. The website is just a year old and flourishing. If you’re a golf fan bookmark it and learn from the men on the bag.
On to Hartford and this week’s picks for Greensky Shortgrass, my entry in the Caddyshacks group of PGA Tour Fantasy Golf.
Last week was the first in this, the – can you believe it? – final segment of the 2018-19 season. The condensed schedule has made the season fly by and we’re 25 days away from the final major championship, The Open at Royal Portrush, which should be a phenomenal venue.
Greensky Shortgrass needs to soar on up the standings after last week’s dismal performance – 117th in the segment but still 20th on the season out of the 855 or so competitors.
Leading our lineup for this week’s Travelers Championship is C.T. Pan, who won in Hilton Head earlier this season and finished top 10 in this tournament in 2017. Charley Hoffman has 12 consecutive rounds in the 60s at Hartford. Paul Casey has back-to-back top-5s at Hartford while Patrick Cantlay seems to play well every week and has a solid track record in Cromwell. Ryan Moore and Kevin Tway are on the bench.
I’ll use this space to fill in the gaps of local coverage and offer my weekly PGA Tour Fantasy Golf selections. I’m certain there are three or four folks out there who read them religiously. With only an hour or two before the first tee shot is struck at Pebble Beach, here goes.
The Greensky Shortgrass boys have fared well, ranking 17th (out of 864) in the 2018-19 PGA Tour Fantasy Golf season. We finished 18th in the most recent segment, which ended last week at the Canadian Open where Rory McIlroy was not on the roster but Webb Simpson, Matt Kuchar and Henrik Stenson were and delivered good weeks.
Tiger Woods is an obvious choice. Not only does he lead the PGA Tour in greens in regulation. He also won by 15 shots here in 2000 and was T-4 in 2010. Anytime it’s a second shot competition, Woods is a smart pick. Ditto, Dustin Johnson at Pebble Beach. He loves the course and has a bad taste to rinse away after whacking up a final-round 82 in 2010 to squander a three-shot lead. Jordan Spieth has shown life after a disappointing 15 months or so. He’s won at Pebble before and won a U.S. Open on the west coast. Tommy Fleetwood seems to always appear at the majors and we have reason to believe he’ll be on form early this week.
Where’s Brooks Koepka, you might ask? On the bench with Webb Simpson. Only because each tees off late in the first round. They’re likely starters in round two.
Tyndall wins North Carolina Open; Taylor ties for 2nd
Ryan Tyndall, a pro at the Reserve at Pawleys Island, shot 7-under at Trump National in Mooresville last week to win the North Carolina Open.
East Carolina golfer Blake Taylor, of Atkinson, tied for second at 6-under. It was the second consecutive runner-up finish for Taylor, who paired with ECU teammate Logan Shuping to reach the finals of the U.S. Amateur 4-Ball at Bandon Dunes in late May.
Hurricane Florence crushed River Landing last September. Flooding from the Northeast Cape Fear River deposited 30 feet of murky water filled with Godknowswhat into half-million dollar homes, lingering for days. The neighborhood will never be the same. Parts of the clubhouse, which just recently reopened, remain in disrepair. Some eight months later, yellow condemned signs stick to front doors and large PODS sit in driveways, filled presumably with whatever clothes, furniture, etc. could be salvaged.
The golf courses inside the community, River and Landing, emerged in excellent condition, remarkably. The fairways are lush, the greens rolled smoothly for the 75 or so competitors who battled for four spots in the next phase on the road to the U.S. Open.
Each year the local 18-hole qualifier attracts the typical cast of competitors. There are fledgling pros like former UNCW stars Thomas Bass and Josh Brock; current college standouts like N.C. State’s Harrison Rhoades, who qualified with a 69; mid-amateur purists like Walker Taylor, a Wilmington insurance man, who has tried to qualify for roughly 120 USGA national championships in the last three decades and been successful seven times; club professionals who spend most of their time teaching, organizing, marketing, administering – and not enough playing – but are unafraid to put a number by their name; and a couple dozen golfers who have absolutely no chance of advancing but sign up because they love to compete or just want to tell their friends they tried.
There were 10-15 players from the Wilmington area and due to the hyper-local emphasis of daily newspapers these days, if a story emerged from any one of that group, that was the obvious angle to take. Once the former UNCW star Cover shot a course-record 61, the angle was clear.
Before I drove up I-40 though, two names caught my attention on the pairings sheet, 40-something veterans Tommy Gainey and Daniel Chopra, in the twilight of their career on the PGA Tour, but still grinding away at a local qualifier in rural North Carolina.
There’s was an angle I wanted to take, but chose not to pursue as the day unfolded. Blame it on the double bogeys and my empathy for those who sign up to play tournament golf. In this case perhaps my understanding of the game’s frustrations and high ‘failure’ rate impeded my reporting. To be honest, both men were pretty pissed, rightfully so, and didn’t seem eager to be interviewed when I saw them around the scoring table. Chopra double bogeyed his 18th hole when bogey would have put him in a playoff and par would have advanced him to sectional qualifying. Gainey suffered a similar sad ending. After an opening 33, he shot 40 on the back nine to miss by three shots.
Gainey, with his two gloves, blue collar roots and reality TV show, is the better known of the two. He won the RSM McGladrey on Sea Island in 2012 and also made a thrilling late charge to finish runner-up in the season-ending Disney event a couple years earlier to maintain exempt status.
But Chopra had a longer and better career. He was a mainstay on the PGA Tour from 2004-to-2014, winning twice, earning more than $7.9 million in 271 tournaments, making 132 cuts. He also had nine victories around the world and three on the Web.com Tour. That’s a strong career by any measure.
Over the last five years he’s been a part-time player, earning the occasional PGA Tour start in the events with weaker fields because of his veteran member, past champion status. He’s also played tournaments on the Web.com Tour.
Gainey’s been on a similar path, getting into random tournaments, often at the last minute. Earlier this year he received a last-minute invite to the AT&T Pebble Beach in northern California when another player withdrew. Plane issues impeded his cross-country travel, however, and he was unable to make it to Carmel in time to tee off in the tournament.
His latest trip to Pebble Beach fell short too.
Judging by his Twitter feed, Gainey is enjoying time at home in Columbia, SC, hanging out with his family and children, supporting his beloved South Carolina Gamecocks on their various courts and fields.
But deep down, he’s a golfer. Just like Chopra. Their ability to put a small ball into a hole cut in the ground 450 yards away created the life they enjoy today, free from the rigors of the 9-to-5 world, suits, ties, conference calls and meetings about meetings, blah, blah, blah. Golf opened doors to compete against their heroes and travel the world and meet folks they otherwise would never have met. In a way, it has that effect on all of us. There’s no other explanation. And the pursuit of success and the feeling it produces will drive a man about anywhere.
That’s why both men went to Wallace on Wednesday. They walked the fairways, pushed their bags on carts and competed against players who will never match their accomplishments. They hoped one good round could produce a chance for two more and from there they might find that old swing, slip into the field of the U.S. Open, hard by the rocks, seals and waves of the cold Pacific.
And just for that one week, as the most demanding test in golf measured their games and tortured their brains, Chopra and Gainey would be back inside-the-ropes on golf’s grand stage, catching up with old buddies, subjects of a “where-have-you-been” feature or two while the folks back home gathered around the TV in the clubhouse or checked their phones for the scores, like they used to do during all those weeks not long ago.
Dreaming again of White Chocolate Georgia Pecan cookies and hanging out under the ol’ oak tree.
Thrusting me back into reality was a question posed somewhere on the interwebs. A golf fan asked a golf writer if Tiger could win the Grand Slam. Simmer down, please.
Yes, what he accomplished at Augusta National last week was special, significant and signals his return to pro golf’s elite – if for some reason observers didn’t include him there after he finished top-6 in the final two majors of 2018 and won the Tour Championship.
Yes, he’s won before at the next two major championship venues. He claimed the 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, site of the PGA Championship, May 16-19. And has a rich history at Pebble Beach, where the U.S. Open returns in June, winning by a record 15 shots 19 years ago. Those two facts will give the TV folks plenty of material in the weeks ahead.
Also, don’t be surprised if Woods challenges for the No. 1 spot in the official world golf ranking by the end of the season. He jumped from 12th to sixth Sunday night and Paul Azinger said Monday morning forget the rankings, Woods is No. 1 right now. Per usual, Zinger makes a good point.
But he’s not going to win the Grand Slam. (Yes,I remember writing Saturday morning that he wasn’t going to win the Masters). There are too many talented players and too many variables in golf. Do I expect him to contend? Sure. Just don’t get carried away. The pro golf landscape has shifted since last Thursday, not changed entirely. Dozens of players are talented enough to win a major. Remember that 26 pros won their first major in between Woods’ victories at the 2008 U.S. Open and 2019 Masters. Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and a host of others are on that list and aren’t likely to go anywhere.
Love or hate CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, but he’s covered the biggest sporting events for more than three decades and calls the 2019 Masters the best of them all. Bold statement made two or three days after the green jacket was slipped on Woods’ shoulders.
One more thought: Yesterday, I was standing in line in my local grocery store. The manager was helping the cashier by bagging meat and produce bought by the customer who was ahead of me in line. The customer was not wearing golf clothes. I can’t say for certain that either man plays the game. The manager said to him, “That was some golf tournament last weekend, wasn’t it?” Three days later in a town 275 miles away, a major golf tournament was still in the conversation. No offense to Koepka, Rory or anyone else. But that’s how Tiger moves the needle. He’s the only golfer, ever, whose presence transcends the sport.
Still, it was special.
If you haven’t had enough yet, here are words to read from the 2019 Masters.
Below is my four-part series for Augusta.com on the enhanced fifth hole at the Masters.
There’s a big storm coming. Saturday’s third round should be completed without interruption, however, the southeast U.S. sits in the bullseye for a classic spring storm – lightning, wind, rain, etc. – as a cold front bears down on Augusta, expected to arrive Sunday afternoon.
While we’re on the Tiger subject, I don’t think he’s going to win this weekend. (Then again, I picked Justin Rose who is down the road). It would be a incredible moment, one of the best in golf history if he ended a nearly 11-year major championship drought and earned a fifth green jacket. The impact he makes on golf fans was on display in high definition in the waning light Friday afternoon as he created electricity that only he can.
Still, there are two areas he has to improve over the final 36 holes if he wants to add another remarkable page to his unparalleled legacy:
Par 5 scoring: Woods has birdied only three of the eight so far. Throw in a sloppy 3-putt bogey on No. 8 yesterday and he’s only 2-under on the holes which present the best scoring opportunities at Augusta National. Here’s how Woods and the other contenders have fared on the par-5s.
Short Putting: Woods is 26 of 29 on putts inside of five feet, which is 89.7 percent and tied for last among those who made the cut. He’s 4 of 8 on putts from 5-10 feet, which is T-48 in the field. On a jam-packed leaderboard, filled with major champions and world class players, avoiding mistakes this weekend will be critical. Missed short putts are momentum crushers. Woods made 58 feet of birdie putts on 14 and 15 in the second round, sandwiched between 20 feet of missed opportunities on 12, 13 and 17. Even one of the all-time greats has jangled nerves at age 43. Making the ones he never used to miss is an essential step in Tiger’s path to victory.
Brooks Koepka’s comments after his opening 66 Thursday at the Masters reminded me of those Tiger Woods used to make.
Because he teed off in the last threesome of the first round a reporter asked if he’d paid attention to the scores shot earlier in the day.
Koepka watched a few holes to check out hole locations and see how putts breaking.
“But I mean, I could care less what other people are doing. Doesn’t matter to me. I’m there to play a round of golf, and whatever they do isn’t going to affect me.
Later, he was asked if he’d paid any attention to comments Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee made earlier in the week, criticizing Koepka for losing 20 pounds as he prepared for a . Chamblee, never bashful about sharing his opinion, called it “the most reckless self sabotage that I have ever seen of an athlete in his prime.”
Koepka’s responded with his 66 and these comments: “Well, I lift all the time. I lift too many weights, and I’m too big to play golf. And then when I lose weight, I’m too small. So, I don’t know (laughter). I don’t know what to say. I’m too big and I’m too small. Listen, I’m going to make me happy. I don’t care what anybody else says. I’m doing it for me, and obviously it seems to work.”
He glanced over at the leaderboard before the last phrase.
About six or seven years ago, my wife and I came to Augusta National for a Monday practice round. The day was ideal. Two nights before we’d been to a smoking Neil Young solo show at the Fox Theater in Atlanta. As we walked the grounds, she told me she understood why I loved this place so much, calling it a Disney World for golfers. We sat under the pine trees in Amen Corner and enjoyed a sandwich and a drink as the breeze whispered above, sharing a peaceful moment in a spot unlike any other. This place is special. It’s not perfect and scars linger from past injustices, but the powers that be are moving in the right direction. The par-3 Contest is one of the things that sets Augusta apart.
The time has come to lengthen the 13th hole, the par-5 which requires only a mid-to-short iron second shot for the game’s longest hitters. Pushing the tee back 30 yards would prohibit players from carrying the trees on the left corner, and would restore the integrity and original intention to the hole.
Caught up with three-time Masters champion Nick Faldo, the CBS Analyst on Wednesday at the par-3 contest. Here are his thoughts on the tournament. He feels the softer conditions give more players a chance to claim the green jacket.
I think it’s opened up the field, more guys have a chance particularly guys who don’t have a lot of years under their belt here. Traditionally when it’s firm and fast you really have to know where to land it. You have to be really smart, you have to know where your misses are going. Just cause you’ve got a wedge in your hand, you can’t get carried away. You hit it six feet right of the flag, it’s a good shot, but it’s the wrong six feet. You can miss the green. You’ve got to know where to go left, right, short and long. With it being soft, as we’ve seen in the past, you can just aim and fire. And just go for everything for a while. It will be treacherous by the weekend.
Tuesday at Augusta is the big interview day. One by one, the stars of golf and Masters legends file into the Media Center Interview Room (no cell phones allowed). You’ve probably seen Player A and Green Jacket moderator sitting beside one another at the podium. There are chips in our badges which the moderator uses to identify the folks asking the questions. High-tech stuff. Koepka, Phil, DJ, Spieth, Rahm, JT, etc., etc. They all came in and gave their thoughts on their game and the course. Hole 5, extended 30 yards to 495 yards this year, has been a conversation piece. Expect to see a new front left hole location there. With these soft fairways and southern winds forecast, expect the fifth to play long and difficult. I won’t be surprised if it has the highest stroke average of any par-4 at week’s end.
Hard rain fell this morning but the skies cleared in the afternoon and the practice grounds were active. There’s a chance for rain / storms Thursday and Friday. It’s been 1983 since the Masters has needed a Monday finish. Hopefully that streak stays intact.
Here’s a insightful piece from a smart analyst, Mark Broadie, the inventor of the Strokes Gained statistics used by the PGA Tour, who explains the difficulty of hitting approach shots close to the hole at Augusta National. Longer putts equals more 3-putts.
Tiger Woods elaborated on this point during his Tuesday press conference, reflecting on his first decade at the Masters when the course played five hundred yards shorter and he often needed only a sand wedge and never more than an 8-iron, for his approach shot to most of the par-4s and could reach the par-5s with a mid-to-short iron second shot.
Tiger’s chances hinge on his performance with two clubs – the ones pro golfers use to start and finish most holes – the driver and the putter. His performance with both has been mixed this season but the rest of his game looks strong. Can he find some magic in his bag at age 43?
Patrick Reed is back in Augusta, this time as the defending champion of the Masters. He’s a enigmatic, if not divisive figure. Hardly the first golfer who marched alone to the beat in his earbuds, still relationship issues – teammates, parents, siblings, seem to follow him around.
For most, golf is a recreational release, a social endeavor enjoyed with friends and family. While certain characteristics might translate to the pro game, more frequently at this level it’s a solitary pursuit, one that demands supreme confidence and untold hours of time spent alone. Man, club, ball, hole. Don’t let the science of DeChambeau fool ya. It can be downright primal: see ball, hit ball, chase ball. Repeat. Reed is here this week, serving a bone-in Cowboy Ribeye to the Champions and trying to repeat but does anybody care? Words for Forbes SportsMoney.
This next part works best if read aloud in a thick Southern accent.
We conceive that the ideal here is that our greens should hold a shot well-struck with backspin but should not hold an improperly played ball. Our greens are of such generous proportions that it is not difficult to hit some part of them but the combination of slopes plus speed introduces serious problems for the player who has failed to place his approach shots reasonably close to the cup.
There’s a strict no cellphone policy at Augusta National, media included. We’re required to leave our phones in this beautiful building when we head out on the course. Each time, before I sit down in the golf cart that shuttles us to the area right of the first fairway – where the old press building was located – I double check my pockets to make sure I haven’t mistakenly left my phone in my pocket. I do not want to find out what happens to those who forget. I’ve been in my share of trouble on this Earth. While not having a phone can be inconvenient such as when you need to contact an editor and tell him the perfectly excellent reason you haven’t returned to the media center in four or five hours, it’s also refreshing as hell to look around a large group of people and see faces and not the tops of heads. People, myself at the top of the list, are forced to be present and observe. Nobody is shooting videos or snapping photos or hollering at somebody to watch the video they just shot or photo they snapped. It’s civil, really. As in civilized. Nobody loves their phone more than I do but being free of it for hours at a time is part of what makes this a special week.
Earlier today I interviewed another of my musical heroes, Warren Haynes, for 10 minutes from the back porch of the Augusta National Media Center. What a life this is. He’s playing Greenfield Lake in Wilmington the end of the month with his heavyweight band, Government Mule.