10 reasons Europeans will win
By Bill Huffman
Here are 10 reasons why Europe’s reclamation of the Ryder Cup this weekend at the Celtic Manor in Wales is just a shout away.
10. A hairy issue
U.S. rookie Rickie Fowler has a lot of hair, but Europe’s outstanding rookie, Rory McIlroy, has locks that are equally as long and much thicker. Not that Rory’s mop-top will necessarily be the key against little Rickie’s “dutch boy’’ look, mind you. No, the fact that McIlroy is ranked No. 9 in the world compared to Fowler’s rating of No. 33 has a lot more to do with it. Plus, in the hair department, America’s got five guys going bald if you count Tiger Woods, while Europe has none. (Does this have the potential to be a medical study: Why Europeans have more hair?)
9. Brothers in arms
Europe’s “Italian stallions’’ look like the real deal. Brothers Edoardo and Francesco Molinari, who both live in the town of Turin and love to play, hmm, soccer, could turn out to be world-beaters this weekend. Hey, Edoardo already has guaranteed that the Molinaris “will not lose.’’ And there is precedent, as Team Molinari prevailed a year ago in the World Cup – a first for a two-man team from Italy. Genes aside, here’s why the Molinaris will be so tough – Francesco, 27, has the game; Edoardo, 29, has the nerve.
8. Furyk flat-lines
Ever wonder why Tour players take the following week off after they win a tournament? Yeah, there’s nothing left in the tank. That’s why Jim Furyk, who never has played all that well in the Ryder Cup (8-13-3) is about to come out flat in the Welsh Games. The former Arizona All-American just completed the biggest moment in his career by winning the TOUR Championship and FedEx Cup, a feat that certainly will earn him player of the year honors. But the needle, no doubt, will be on “empty’’ this weekend.
7. More flat-liners
Besides Furyk, American “go-to guys’’ Matt Kuchar, Dustin Johnson and Steve Stricker also seemed to come up empty last weekend, like they had given everything they’ve got to get that far and had simply nothing left, especially Johnson, who had two gut-wrenching near-misses in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship. Both Kurchar (T25 out of 30 players) and Johnson (T22) looked like shadows of themselves en route to poor finishes in the FedEx Cup along with the usually dependable Stricker (T25). Add Yankee rookies Jeff Overton (T29) and Bubba Watson (T17) to that “Flat-liners II’’ and it doesn’t bode well for the U.S. sluggers.
6. Exit, stage left
He’s still No. 2 in the world, but Phil Mickelson hasn’t sniffed it since the Masters back in April. Plus, he’s not all that adept (10-14-6) at Ryder Cup pressure any way. Now if this was the President’s Cup where he went 4-1-0 a year ago that would be something. But, alas, it’s not. And to add to Lefty’s woes, he doesn’t play particularly well when the fans are hostile, something Mr. Popular is unfamiliar with having played the majority of his golf in the comfy confines of the PGA Tour. But even more to the point: Phil’s had one top-10 (T8 BMW Championship) since the U.S. Open in June.
5. Tiger’s year to forget
If the Euro fans will be giving both barrels to Mickelson, just think of the heavy artillery they’ll be using on Woods and his tarnished image? Or how about this question that one British tabloid reporter laid on Woods during Monday’s opening press conference: “You don’t win majors any more, you don’t win regular tournaments any more . . . so where is the Ryder Cup on your agenda now that you’re just an ordinary golfer?’’ To which Woods smiled and replied: “I hope you’re having a good week.’’ Tiger will need lots more of that before the week is over.
4. Pavin and “The Captain-ness’’
About the only thing we really know — absolutely, 100 percent, for sure — is that Lisa Pavin, the wife of U.S. captain Corey Pavin, will be playing a larger role in the Ryder Cup than usual starting with her scantily clad photo on the cover of Avid Golfer magazine. Dubbing herself “the Captain-ness,’’ Lisa Pavin has personally selected some very, well, feminine-looking outfits for the Yanks. Add in Pavin’s “little guy’’ complex to the egomaniac equation, and the U.S. team really might be deserving of its self-proclaimed role as underdogs.
3. Monty has his moment
Say this about European captain Colin Montgomerie, occasionally he puts his money where his mouth is, and this will be one of those rare occasions. Dubbed by the media “Captain Rabbit Ears’’ for his fragile ego, if there is one arena where “the best player never to have won a major’’ has excelled in, it’s the Ryder Cup. In fact, behind Nick Faldo and Bernhard Langer, nobody has won more points in these Patriot Games than Monty’s 23 ½, which included a record of 6-0-2 in singles. But here is the reason he’ll lead the Euros to yet another victory. “(Monty) always revels as the man out front,’’ said Padraig Harrington in reference to Colin’s key role in four of the Euros’ past wins.
2. Better “losers’’
The tangible that really opens eyes when comparing Team Red-White-and-Blue to Team just-Blue is how many losing records there are among the Ryder Cup veterans on both teams. For the U.S. that includes, most notably, Woods (10-13-2), Mickelson (10-14-6), Furyk (8-13-3) and Stewart Cink (4-7-4) vs. Europe’s Harrington (7-11-3) and Miguel Angel Jimenez (2-7-3). It becomes even more obvious on a team scale: U.S. (35-51-20, .425) vs. Europe (35-32-13, .519). And for those really good at math, yes, that’s a winning record for the Euro vets.
1. No place like home
Numbers don’t lie, and in the past 25 years Europe’s record in the Ryder Cup is a very impressive (some might say, “dominating”), 7-4-1 with four of those wins and the tie coming on its own soil. And to think, it could have been even more overwhelming had the U.S. not pulled off “The Miracle at the Country Club’’ in 1999. Why is this so? There are two factors why the U.S. seemingly can’t win across the pond: The Euros treat the Ryder Cup like it’s a major championship; they want it more. The Europeans’ paranoid perception that the U.S. thinks they are better players; a snub that inspires the Euro guys to no end.
Final result: Europe, 15-13
Solheim Cup \‘numbers\’ buoy LPGA
By BILL HUFFMAN
Just when it looked like the format for The Solheim Cup was about to undergo a radical change, the biennial event named for the founder of Phoenix-based PING got a big boost on almost every front.
OK, so nothing much really changed in terms of the competition, as the U.S. whipped up on the European team, 16-12, for its third straight win while running its overall record to 8-3. Still the competition was much closer than the score, as the heavily favored Yankees had their hands full against the scrappy underdogs from across The Pond.
What had to be encouraging for organizers and the Solheim family was the “other’’ numbers’’ – solid TV ratings, record crowds, hefty tournament sales and Internet hits. All were “up’’ so significantly in an economically down year that chances are the Solheim Cup lives in its current state at least through 2011 when the matches will be played at Killeen Castle in Ireland.
Translated: The large contingent of highly ranked Korean golfers, the LPGA’s version of the “A Team’’ (the U.S. being the “B’’ and the Euros the “C’’) won’t be added to the mix. For the record, that had been the scuttle-butt before the latest battle took place last weekend at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill.
Why change the format? To start with, the Europeans had four players not even in the top 125 of the world rankings. But the cold hard fact that was hardest to ignore was that 12 of the top 20 players in the world rankings were from regions not eligible for the Solheim Cup, most notably Asia and Australia. Oh, yes, and the No. 1 player in women’s golf, Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa, also was ineligible.
But with Michelle Wie going 3-0-1 in what many called her “breakthough performance,’’ and the U.S. rallying late on the back nine of Sunday’s singles matches, the drama proved great enough to draw a record .93 rating on the Golf Channel. That tripled the ratings from the Solheim Cup of 2007 (.27) that was held in Sweden, and also surpassed the previous all-time standard set in 2005 (.62).
Granted, that .93 rating breaks down into only 956,000 total viewers, still small by even golf standards. But remember, it’s the Golf Channel and not everyone has cable.
The crowd count for the week also turned out to be record-smashing, as 120,100 fans showed up at a steady 30,000 fans-a-day pace. Sure, that’s about the same crowd count you would expect for an LPGA event in Phoenix, but it’s about double when compared to other LPGA tournaments that average about 60,000 fans for a week.
That was the other upside to the Solheim Cup, in that all those fans bought a record $1 million worth of merchandise for the week, according to SportsBusiness Journal. And if all those numbers aren’t enough to sway the critics, the web traffic on LPGA.com drew nearly 6.5 million page views for the week, up 205 percent from the 2007 Solheim Cup.
It just goes to show you that perhaps the Solheim Cup is more about the entertainment value and the traditional matchup – U.S. vs. Europe — than who wins or loses. In that regard, Wie, the wild-and-crazy Christina Kim and “the Brat Pack’’ – Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel and Natalie Gulbis – proved they have a lot to bring to the table.
Seriously, in a year that has been both dark and gloomy for the LPGA, the struggling women’s golf organization could not have received a better shot in the arm than the 11th annual Solheim Cup. It is a message we can only hope does not fall on deaf ears here in Phoenix, where the future of the LPGA is in dire straits.
Moore gets less to get more
By BILL HUFFMAN
Even though it took five frustrating seasons that included 112 starts on the PGA Tour, give Ryan Moore credit in that when he finally won, he did it his way.
Moore, who became the third Tour player from Scottsdale to win this year for the very first time in his professional career, following Pat Perez (Bob Hope Chrysler Classic) and Paul Casey (Shell Houston Open), looked like an “everyday muni hack’’ as he accepted the trophy for winning the Wyndham Championship on Sunday in Greensboro, N.C.
This was no fashion statement as Moore donned a faded navy-blue golf shirt, rumpled-up (a.ka. un-ironed) khaki jeans and a logo-less cap that Moore calls his “something hat’’ and others call a “painter’s hat’’ or a “Castro cap.’’ Adding to Moore’s one-of-a-kind Tour attire were golf shoes that looked more suited for a skateboarder — or possibly Ellen DeGeneres!
But, seriously, even Moore’s kelly green-and-blue golf bag that he bought off the Internet was void of any corporate sponsorship. (“It’s kind of Seahawks colors, and I’m from the Seattle area.’’)
It’s true, not everyone can look as casually cool and coordinated to the "tee” like Tiger and his vast Nike wardrobe. Or be the next Doug Sanders, although Ian Poulter tries. Still, you want to leave little doubt you’re doing a better job than John Daly, right? But apparently the low-key Moore could care less.
Actually, Moore has one minor deal, a ball and glove contract from Callaway. But for the most part, he has remained committed to a goal he set for himself this year at the FBR Open – no sponsorship deals until his game was where he wanted it to be.
“Truthfully, I have no idea where this might lead me, but I’m very happy and very comfortable with it,’’ he told us back in February when Moore’s golf game became part of the lack-of-a-logo story and he ended up tied for sixth.
So after taking down Jason Bohn and yet another Scottsdale pro looking for his first win, Kevin Stadler, in a three-hole playoff Sunday, Moore “finally is beginning’’ to like what he sees. Even if it does mean he’ll probably be inundated with potential sponsors.
“This has felt like an uphill battle the whole time I’ve been on the PGA Tour,’’ said the 26-year-old, who came out of UNLV in 2004 as one of the most decorated amateurs since Tiger Woods but couldn’t quite get across the finish line, absorbing a runner-up finish in each of his last four seasons while struggling through a near-career-ending injury to his left wrist.
“But lately, I’ve seen some consistency in my golf game and that’s really what I’ve been looking for. I guess that’s what I’m most happy with right now, my consistency.’’
A funny statement because after seven holes of Sunday’s shootout with Bohn, Stadler and Sergio Garcia (who blew a two-shot lead down the stretch), Moore was anything but consistent. In fact, when Moore bogeyed the seventh hole, he looked to be an afterthought, six shots behind the Spaniard.
But something happened on his way to the eighth tee. Moore had “a reality check.’’
“I just wasn’t feeling that great, so I gave myself a little pep talk,’’ said Moore, who was born in Tacoma but has lived at Estancia Golf Club in Scottsdale for almost a year now.
“I said, ‘Let’s hit every shot the rest of the day like you’re going to win this golf tournament.’ . . . You know, over time, I haven’t won. I haven’t been in this position much. A lot of it is just confidence. And so I kind of talked myself into it a little bit there. I just said, ‘All right. Let’s do this.’ . . . and it got me going.’’
Who would have ever guessed that Moore, the four-time Rebel All-American who in 2004 captured the U.S. Amateur at Winged Foot along with the U.S. Public Links (repeat champ), NCAA Championship and Western Amateur, would be shrouded in self-doubt? Hey, crazy stuff happens, especially in golf.
Like Sunday, when suddenly Moore reeled off five straight birdies beginning at the 12th hole and then watched in almost disbelief as Bohn and Stadler both bogeyed the final hole to force the playoff and give him life. A surprising twist that wasn’t lost on Moore, who a year earlier got upended by Adam Scott in a three-hole playoff at the Byron Nelson Classic. No doubt Moore still sees Scott’s rather shocking, 50-foot birdie snaking its way to the hole.
“There’s no such thing as a bad bounce or a good bounce. It all just kind of works out,’’ Moore said of the up-and-down nature of the game. “I was just trying to control what I could control and that’s me.
“It’s as simple as that. I was just trying to hit good golf shots.’’
Which is exactly what happened, as Moore shook off Bohn and then Stadler to achieve — almost out of the blue! — that goal he had set for himself way back at the FBR Open.
“I’m certainly not against sponsors,’’ Moore said when asked what he plans to wear and play in the near future now that he’s a winner on Tour.
“That’s not the idea behind this (giving up commercial endorsements). For me, it was getting the last three years behind me; just a lot of frustration. I haven’t played great golf necessarily, and yet I’ve been close (to winning). I haven’t been the player that I know that I am capable of being.
“So I looked at this year like a fresh start, a chance to get back to the basics, and just go and play golf and not worry about any of that other stuff on the side. . . . I wanted to be sure I was playing the clubs I wanted to play because I wanted to play them, not because I had to play them.’’
Those clubs Moore referred to were from Phoenix-based PING, the company he left this year after each side could not reach a contract. Simply put: Moore wanted more money; PING thought his career had yet to take off to the level of money Moore was seeking. The stalemate gave Moore the impetus to do it alone, he admitted.
“Certainly nothing against the equipment company that I was with before,’’ he said. “They make great products and I’m still using the exact same irons. But a couple of equipment changes have been huge this year. It was a great decision (to give up sponsors), and we’ll see where it goes from here.’’
Moore never mentioned what those huge changes were, and, of course, didn’t mention the clubs by name, either. But, hey, he doesn’t get paid to endorse golf clubs – yet!
Hopefully for Moore his big Wyndham win will be more of the same. Since the U.S. Open, where he finished in a tie for 10th at brutal Beth Page Black, Moore has three other top-10s and has accumulated the majority of his $1.9 million in earnings this season.
Not bad for a guy who had previously missed eight cuts and was so far down the pecking order that he wasn’t eligible for the season’s last two majors – the British Open and PGA Championship. It’s been a rapid rise, as just this week he jumped from No. 121 to No. 73 in the world.
Come to think of it, there might be some credence to the argument that Moore’s recent upward mobility might have more to do with his physical health than his mental health, although both seemed to be intertwined last weekend.
“My hand was hurting my very first professional tournament,’’ said Moore, who ironically had made the Wyndham Championship – called the Chrysler Classic of Greensboro in 2005 – his first tournament on the Tour.
“I can’t really say that I’ve been myself the whole time I’ve been out here. I’ve just been fighting those things. Really, it’s been a battle to get myself feeling like myself again.’’
But Ryan Moore is back, and there’s a very good chance – I’d say at least 100 percent — that so will the corporate logos and sponsorship deals come 2010.
Great debate: Did Tiger choke?
By BILL HUFFMAN
A few thoughts and shots left over from the 91st PGA Championship:
Did he or didn’t he choke?
That’s the question that has been hotly debated since Y.E. Yang took down Tiger Woods in Sunday’s shocking conclusion at Hazeltine National.
The furor erupted after nationally syndicated columnist Jay Mariotti, he of AOL Sports, Fanhouse.com and ESPN Sports fame, slapped the C-word on Woods in the aftermath of arguably the best major drama of 2009.
Here was the way Mariotti spun it:
It was the moment that couldn’t happen, the day Woods relinquished a 54-hole lead in a major, the one place in time when the greatest golfer of his generation – prepare yourself for what I’m about to say here – CHOKED away the 91st PGA Championship and let a hungrier, more focused, more composed golfer kick the stuffing out of him.
Wrong. Tiger didn’t “choke,’’ he got beat. And this is why guys who don’t cover golf for a living should be careful what they write. Oftentimes these shoot-from-the-hip columnists who like to stir up the golf pot don’t really understand the nuances of the game.
Sure, Tiger let a two-shot lead going into the final round get away for the first time ever in a major. But Woods didn’t choke it away; Yang took it from him.
That’s golf, a game where you can’t control what the other guy will do. And the South Korean did a lot, like the chip-in eagle at the 14th hole, where Woods was waiting impatiently to make a short birdie putt, and then at the 18th hole, where Yang stuffed a 3-wood from a ridiculous position in the fairway – first cut of rough, over a tree to a tucked pin — while Woods was contemplating his second shot to square the match and force a playoff.
Granted, Tiger couldn’t make the putts when they counted, but that’s not choking. Choking, as I understand it, would be more like Kenny Perry’s finish in the Masters this year, where he led by two shots with two holes to play and then made back-to-back bogeys, including a skulled chip at the 17th where Perry admitted his hand shook, and a bladed chip at the second hole in OT that cost him the green jacket.
Which is not to say Tiger didn’t blow this opportunity to win the PGA. But you can blow it, Jay, without choking it away.
If golf needed a “stimulus package’’ it got one when Yang turned the golf world upside down by beating the previously unbeatable Woods.
Yes, it was a 9.9 on golf’s Richter Scale. The proof was in the TV ratings, which soared 88 percent from a year ago, when Padraig Harrington won and Woods was home on the couch nursing his repaired knee.
To put Yang’s upset of Woods in further perspective: 35.7 million viewers watched all or part of the final round, or about 16.7 million viewers more than a year ago.
Despite the jump in ratings, the PGA still finished second in 2009 behind the Masters with a rating/share of 6.6/15 compared to the Masters’ 8.3/20. But it was the highest rated PGA since 2002, when Rich Beem hung on to beat Woods.
Obviously, Woods drives ratings even if the Masters seems to stand in a class of its own. That the PGA edged the U.S. Open (4.7/11) and British Open (3.8/12) also is heady stuff for what is generally regarded as the fourth major in terms of importance.
It is a proven fact that when Tiger is in the mix, usually in the role of the winner, TV ratings skyrocket and everything else in the game goes up: rounds of golf, retail golf sales, golf lessons, golf vacations, etc. But the irony here is that Yang winning might actually do more to promote the game and encourage play throughout Asia and the world than had Tiger prevailed.
YING AND YANG
Golf writers like catchy words, and how many didn’t jump on the Ying-Yang metaphor at least once during the PGA?
For the record, it’s “yin yang’’ in Chinese or Korean, even though most Westerners refer to it as ying-yang. In Chinese philosophy yin yang is used to describe how seemingly opposite forces are interconnected and yet independent of each other in the natural world, or complementary opposites within a greater whole.
Gee, at least we perhaps unknowingly got the definition right, as Yang and Tiger “Yin’’ Woods certainly were “complementary opposites within a greater whole.’’
It’s just an opinion, but did you get the feeling that Yang actually benefited from the cultural differences coming down the stretch, that it benefited him greatly that he wasn’t fully aware of what he was doing at the moment? That had he been an American trying to knock off Woods that it might not have come as easily?
Seriously, when was the last time you saw a player waving at the camera as he came down the homestretch while battling Tiger in a major? Not even Phil Mickelson would be doing that, like Yang was on the 16th hole.
One more thing about Yang: As we all know by now, he is the first Asian-born player to win a major. At the same time, Tiger’s mother was Thai, or Asian, so shouldn’t Woods already have gotten some of that credit?
Reporting on Woods is not easy, chiefly because if you say anything the world’s No. 1 player doesn’t like he tends to “diss’’ you. CBS became aware of this a little over a year ago when Woods quit talking to Peter Kostis over something the Scottsdale broadcaster said about his swing. (A feud since resolved.)
So CBS, being like every other TV media outlet, especially the “bow-down-to-Tiger’’ Golf Channel, assigned David Feherty to cover Woods. And say this about Feherty, he does a great job when it comes to sucking up to Tiger.
Over and over as Yang and Woods battled it out Sunday, Feherty reminded us about Tiger’s penchant for making the big plays under pressure and how Yang was outmatched. The pinnacle of CBS openly rooting for Tiger came at the par-3 17th hole, where Woods’ tee shot airmailed the green into deep rough.
“Absolutely all over the flag!’’ Feherty screamed of Woods’ errant shot, which had the line but was way off in terms of distance.
Once he realized the shot wasn’t close, Feherty countered: “He’s not guessed right (on club selection) all week.’’
And on one of the biggest shots of the day, neither did Feherty.
WHAT WERE THE ODDS?
Sure, it would have been quite a feat had Woods gone his entire career without ever blowing a 54-hole lead in the majors. But what were the odds considering how many times Tiger has put himself in that position?
After 14 straight majors of looking invincible, Tiger finally proved to one and all that he is a mere mortal capable of being defeated. Just as incredible as the streak in the majors, however, were Woods’ 36 wins in a row where he had taken the 54-hole lead into the final round dating back to 1996, the year he came out on tour and gave it up to little-known Ed Fiori in the John Deere Classic.
Unbelievably, the Associated Press story in the local paper did not mention one word about the demise of Padraig Harrington, who would have finished tied with Tiger had it not been for a disastrous 8 at the eighth hole, a simple par 3 that stretched a mere 167 yards.
But those 8s happen when you dunk two balls in the water, as the defending champ did. And for the second straight week it looked like Harrington skulled a wedge out of deep greenside rough when it mattered most.
Needless to say, Paddy will have a gut check next time he faces such a shot in the clutch, especially if it comes in a major.
The jury still is out on whether Lucas Glover is a one-major wonder, but the U.S. Open champ did look better at times during the PGA, when he snuck within one shot of the lead on several occasions.
In the end, the former winner of the 2003 Gila River Classic in Phoenix finished fifth (2 under). But that was quite an improvement from the British Open, where Glover missed the cut. And a long, long way from the start of the season when he failed to qualify for the Masters.
PLAYER OF YEAR
So who is player of the year now that four relatively “average guys’’ split up the four majors and Woods didn’t win one?
Yang? He’s the only guy with another PGA Tour win (Honda Classic) besides his major. Glover has the most top 10s (four) and money ($3.4 million) of the major winners.
Stew Cink has three other top 10s, and Masters winner Angel Cabrera has only one other top 10.
Tiger, meanwhile, has five wins and twice as much money ($7.66 million) as Glover and still could make POY a moot point if he wins the FedEx Cup.
Then again, don’t you have to win a major in order to really qualify for player of the year?
None of the four major winners for 2009 came out of the top 20 in the world. Cabrera was No. 69 when he won the Masters, Glover was No. 71 when he was crowned U.S. Open champ, Stewart Cink came the closest at being No. 33 at the British Open, and PGA winner Yang came from the furthest back at No. 110.
Lehman returns \‘home\’ for PGA
By BILL HUFFMAN
Tom Lehman could have been the golf coach at the University of Minnesota. Instead, he’s a 50-year-old PGA Tour veteran with five wins who is playing in perhaps his last major championship – in Minnesota, at least.
“Played here a few times,’’ said the former Golden Gopher star on Wednesday in reference to the site of this week’s 91st PGA Championship – Hazeltine National Golf Club in the Minneapolis suburb of Chaska.
“Not a huge number of times. But being a Gopher and University of Minnesota graduate, we played here occasionally in the springs. So I’ve seen the course change over the years, no doubt.’’
Lehman, a long-time Scottsdale resident, still clings to his Minnesota past, like most of us do when it comes to the early days of our lives.
“I enjoy it,’’ he said of his return to the “Land of 10,000 Lakes,’’ the biggest this week being Lake Hazeltine. “You never lose your roots. Your roots are what they are and Minnesota is always going to be home.
“I’ve lived in Arizona for 20 years, so I now have two lives, really. One where I’ve planted roots and raised our family in Arizona, and the other where Minnesota is still home.
“I actually feel like I’ve got two homes and the fans make me feel like that. They’ve been very gracious and supportive through my practice rounds. And you can tell that they really are pulling for me and for anybody else who has any connection to the state to do well.’’
Lehman, who listed himself from “Scottsdale’’ on his official PGA entry form, is heading what is believed to be the smallest delegation of Arizona-based golfers to a major in recent memory. Even the small town of Chaska is slightly larger than the 10 guys who will represent the Valley of the Sun.
Seriously, it’s difficult to remember the last time Arizona wasn’t well into double digits in terms of entries for a major. The first three majors were packed with 45 Arizona-based guys, but this time around for the PGA we’re missing a notable few, like Billy Mayfair, Mark Calcavecchia, Ryan Moore, Jeff Quinney and Chez Reavie, who all were here at the PGA last year but failed to qualify this time around.
Plus, there’s no Ricky Barnes, the big Scottsdale kid who was the surprise of the U.S. Open. And we don’t have an Arizona-based PGA club pro among the 20 who made the field by qualifying at the National Club Pro Championship last month.
So who is here from Arizona besides Minnesota’s native son Tom Lehman? Well, one guy is his fellow Champions Tour rookie Michael Allen, who got in with his stunning win in May at the Senior PGA Championship at Canterbury Country Club in Ohio. Like Lehman, who won his Champions debut in the Legends of Golf with partner Bernhard Langer, Allen shocked the golf world by making a senior major his first win after going zero-for-334 on the PGA Tour.
Others include Scottsdale’s Pat Perez, Kevin Streelman and Bubba Watson, as well as Valley part-timers Aaron Baddeley, Tim Clark, Mathew Goggin, Geoff Ogilvy and Paul Casey — IF Casey, the No. 3-ranked player in the world, recovers from a chest-muscle injury before his starting time.
One thing is for certain, those who take on the gargantuan, 7,674-yard Hazeltine National will need all there strength, as the Robert Trent Jones-Rees Jones collabortation (through the years) is the longest test in major championship history.
Even though Lehman only played it occasionally as a college student, he also had a chance to assess it at the 2002 PGA, where Rich Beem took down Tiger Woods. Of course, that came after he failed to qualify for the 1991 U.S. Open won here by Payne Stewart but long before Hazeltine added another 319 yards coming into this week.
“It’s tough. It’s long,’’ said Lehman, who once upon a time when he was struggling as a young man was offered the golf coach job at the UofM but turned it down because it also included running the driving range, which became a sledding/skiing operation in the winter.
“As the course dries out (from a weekend downpour that dumped five to six inches of rain), it’s becoming less long. But there’s some really, really difficult holes, holes where par is going to be a good score no matter who you are or how far you hit it.’’
Funny thing about Hazeltine in that Dave Hill called it a “cow pasture” when it held its first U.S. Open in 1970, the one where Tony Jacklin made Hill a runner-up by seven shots.
Actually, the way the conversation went was something like this: Hill criticized the course and when someone asked what RTJ’s original version was lacking, Hill shot back: “Eighty acres and a few cows. . . . Somebody ruined a good farm.’’
Today, most people wonder if the extreme length, which probably won’t be played to the full 7,674 yards, also has “ruined a good farm.’’ It’s a good question, Lehman noted.
“To simply make a course longer where it only benefits one person, the person who is really long, to me is going in the wrong direction,’’ said Lehman, who is an architect of over a dozen courses himself, including several in both Arizona and Minnesota.
“To make it longer but also change the angle, to make it so that length is always a reward but you’ve got to hit it long and straight, now you’ve got something. The idea of just making it longer just to get the yardage does not. . . .
“The British Open (is a good example). It forces you to take the right line on the shot. If you don’t take the right line you get punished. Whether you hit it short or long, there’s a line for you. And hitting it on that line is rewarded, and that’s what needs to happen here.’’
Lehman said the 12th through 15th holes at Hazeltine National will be the toughest stretch for the PGA field to navigate. That gauntlet includes a 518-yard par 4 at the 12th, a 248-yard par 3 at the13th, and a 642-yard par 5 15th. The 14th hole only sets up as a 352-yard par 4, but the winds there make it difficult, Lehman added.
And while Lehman called his game “solid’’ he said being back in Minnesota has been better than ever even if it has been “hectic.’’ A week of fun with family and friends in Alexandria, which included a round of golf with his son Thomas – who saw the sign at the entrance of the club that read: “Home to Tom Lehman’’ — has given way to a quick weekend back home in Scottsdale to send his oldest daughter Rachael off to college, and then back to the PGA on Tuesday.
“The thing about sending a kid to college – I’m a sap! Plain and simple’’ he said of the experience. “I’m a sentimental fool. If there are any parts of a movie that make you cry, I cry.
“When I see my daughter go off to college and her new phase of life beginning, it tugs on my heart strings. There’s a part (of me) that’s excitement knowing that she’s in for a great period of her life. But there’s also the sadness knowing that things are probably going to be a little different.’’
Lehman knows his career also is on a teeter-totter, too. He has played somewhat below average on the PGA Tour, where his $416,000 in earnings in 13 tries rank him No. 141 on the money. Meanwhile, he was won over $300,000 on the Champions in just four tries. His last two outings, a tie for 60th at the British Open and a tie for eighth at the U.S. Senior Open, add fuel to the fire.
“You look at the Champions Tour and all the things that come with playing well there, well, it takes a full commitment,’’ he said. “So I really don’t see the flip-flopping back and forth lasting very long.
“I think at some point it’s going to be a decision that either I stick with the PGA Tour for another year and go fulltime, or I stick with the Champions Tour full-time and give it my full effort.’’
The answer could come this week before the home crowd, and hopefully it won’t be cruel. They say it’s hard to go home, but it’s even worse if you don’t play well.