Posted on: May 29, 2008 7:22 pm

Bloggin' on Goggin

DUBLIN, Ohio -- If this guy could finish off a tournament, he might fast become famous.

Quick-witted Aussie Mathew Goggin fired a 7-under 65 in the third-to-last group off the tee on Thursday at the Memorial Tournament, marking the fourth time in his career he's held the lead after 18 holes.

Alas, he's still seeking his first PGA Tour victory, which, based on his sense of humor, would be a very popular occurrence should it ever happen.

Goggin warmed up with a couple of funny, self-deprecating remarks about his career, then casually mentioned the only other time he had played the notable Muirfield Village Golf Club, designed by tournament host Jack Nicklaus, a few years back as a member of the Nationwide Tour.

He and his friends were so fired up to be playing a highly regarded tour venue that they stayed up late hoisting beers.

"I was staying with some friends and it was my birthday," he said of the 1999 visit to the Columbus area. "We got so drunk we were going to play the course the next day and I was all fired up.

"But we had a big night and I think it was eight holes, I had such a bad hangover we decided to pull the pin and get out of the sun. So that was a little different experience than playing in the tournament."

The kicker to the story is that Goggin was staying at the nearby home of Gary Nicklaus, the Golden Bear's tour-playing son.

"He was a bad influence," Goggin cracked.

He was quickly reminded that the Memorial is an invitational event and that Papa Bear might not laugh quite as loudly as others when he reads this particular piece of news in his newspaper on Friday morning. Goggin, 33, only laughed louder.

"I better play well the next three days now, once he sees that," he laughed. "They would disinvite me."

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 29, 2008 9:18 am

Phil cuts up the grass

DUBLIN, Ohio -- This is the voice of experience, of course.

Three days earlier, he'd hit one of the best salvage-job shots  of his life on the 72nd hole to win the PGA Tour stop  at Colonial, hacking a wedge out of jail and dark, deep rough to make an improbably birdie to win by a stroke.

"I think the recovery shot's the most exciting shot in golf," Phil Mickelson said Wednesday.

Don't expect to see many this week at the Memorial Tournament, where tournament host Jack Nicklaus has cultivated a crop of green stuff that looks like major-championship stuff in depth, height and tenacity.

It all but waves at you like golden fields of grain and Mickelson isn't a big advocate of rough so deep, there are few playing options going forward. Going sideways, that's another story.

"It's very long and thick and I'm not a big fan of that," Micklelson admitted. "I like what we had last week, where if you hit it in the rough, you have to take some chances. I think the recovery shot's the most exciting shot in golf, and you have a lot of that at Augusta.

"We had it at Wachovia where they cut the rough down a little bit just off the fairways so you could hit some recovery shots. That's not the case here. It's wedge-out rough. I'm not a big fan of that. But it is what it is."



Category: Golf
Posted on: May 27, 2008 5:06 pm
Edited on: May 28, 2008 3:29 pm

Nicklaus: Sit down, shut up, let them play

DUBLIN, Ohio-- Is the Ryder Cup over-rated? Over-hyped? Over-cooked?

For the top-tier players who are seeking major championships as their primary quarry, the answer appears to be an unequivocal yes. At the very least, the event has been blown all out of proportion.

So sayeth none other than Jack Nicklaus, who on Tuesday sounded as though he were speaking words that Tiger Woods might have offered about the famed matches against the European team.

Woods has long claimed that too much has been made of the Ryder Cup, a veritable exhibition that has become something more closely akin to an intercontinental skirmish. Nicklaus, speaking while serving as host of the PGA Tour's Memorial Tournament, feels likewise.

Nicklaus detoured into a long, animated dissertation on the pitfalls of the Ryder and Presidents cups, beginning with a 90-minute conversation he had with new Ryder captain Paul Azinger last fall after Nicklaus led the U.S. team to a Presidents Cup victory in Montreal.

Along the way, he seemingly took what were interpreted as shots at assistant captains Dave Stockton and Ray Floyd, both longtime Champions Tour players in their 60s, not to mention past Ryder Cup captain Tom Lehman, who took the team to Ireland on a private jet last time around as a means of building unity.

Azinger had called to tap Nicklaus' brain, since the U.S. team has been getting annually drilled in the Ryder. Apparently, the tap spewed forth a gusher of opinion.

"He said, 'What do you do?'" Nicklaus recalled. "I says, 'Paul, it's what I don't do.' I said, to me, these guys all got where they got because of their record and how they played. Tell them how to play golf? That's ridiculous. And to hire a bunch of -- hire or appoint, whatever you do -- a bunch of assistant captains to teach them how to play alternate shot or match play, I said, come on, give me a break.

"These guys, they don't even know the guys (assistants) you're bringing in. I said, 'Why would you do that?' I said all I do is get out of the way. And I asked the guys, I said, give me who you want to play with and who you don't want to play with. Who do you think you'll do well with? All those things. And then just go have fun.
"I don't know whether Paul listened or didn't. I think he did listen a lot because we talked quite a bit. And what he's going to do, I don't know. But I think that to make too much out of what a captain's job is, I mean, to me to take a whole team over to go play a practice round, a month before an event?"

"You give me Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk who are basically No. 1, 2, 3 in the world on our team, and they just finished playing all the major championships, and they all are working their tail off, then they just had the Tour Championship and you say, 'OK guys, now we're going to do something important. We're going to play the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup.'

"Come on, give me a break. I mean, is it a nice event? It's a great event. Is it different? Absolutely it's different. Is it exciting? Absolutely it's exciting. But it's a goodwill event. It's for bragging rights.

"I think the U.S. Open or the Masters or British Open, it's a little bit more than bragging rights. It's an event that stands on the record book. You go back and tell me who won the Presidents Cup or the Ryder Cup 10 years ago, or whatever it is, you just -- who was the star player, you couldn't even, not even close. You won't even know who sat out and who didn't sit out.

"But it's a great event. I'm not trying to put down the event by any means. It's a great event, it's great fun. I think it's great entertainment. But it's not, you know, it's not the Tour Championship, which they just finished, or it's not the Masters or the PGA Championship.

"These guys, to just sit there after they played all those events, to try and treat them like little kids and say, you know, 'Now you got to do this and we got to do this and we got to play this way,' I mean, come on. Get out of the way and let them go play. That's sort of my feeling."


As for Woods, he famously asked the media at a recent Ryder Cup if anyone could name Nicklaus' record in the Ryder Cup -- and got nothing but dead air as a response.

Somehow, I am guessing that Nicklaus' stream-of-consciousness patter will get some play in Europe, where the Ryder Cup occupies a place in the sports pantheon that is probably tenfold more important than in the States.






Category: Golf
Posted on: May 21, 2008 2:50 pm
Edited on: May 21, 2008 3:45 pm

No flighty proposal

The guys who run the John Deere Classic, staged the week before the British Open, know they have a tough lot in life.

Few top-tier players have elected to play over the years because they mostly head overseas early in order to make the time-change adjustments, find the golf clubs that the airlines invariably lose (happened to a half-dozen guys last year or thereabouts), or to get the lay of the linksland, so to speak. Not to mention get used to life with only a handful of TV stations.

Anyway, in an attempt to build the field strength, tournament officials have taken the Deere by the horns and chartered a jet plane for a Sunday-night redeye flight to Manchester, promising to ferry for free the players and their families to the British in time to practice on Monday morning. Tournaments have been in an all-out arms race to out-hustle one another with gifts, spa treatments, free food and the like, but this is a novel idea that just might boost one of the weaker fields of the regular season.

From the sounds of it, the jet seems downright posh. Clair Peterson, the Deere tournament director, said they have lined up a 100-seat 767 that will be parked at the Quad Cities Airport, warmed up and ready. All the seats are first class, he said, and it should arrive by 8 a.m. in England.

"It's a big deal," Peterson said. "Obviously our date and our location have made it difficult for players to get to the British Open. We had eight players last year that played here and made the trip over. Our expectation is that we'll at least double that this year.

"The key points to the offer is that a player has automatically three seats in his name that he can use as he sees fit. If his wife is going over, and obviously the caddies will be an important part of the team going over, agents may be going over. But there are three seats guaranteed.

"At the end of June, when we have an idea how many players will be taking advantage of the offer, June 30th there's a qualifier in Michigan to identify, I think, about 12 players who, if they haven't already become exempt, will become exempt to the British. So that will be a new group that will certainly want to come our way, we feel."

The jet has frequently been used by Mark Cuban's NBA team, the Dallas Mavericks, and is going to run more than $300,000, a Deere tournament official said. Rather than choosing to dump the money into the purse, where it wouldn't have attracted much attention from the players, they figured the jet service would make a splash.

"I think it's just an awesome service to provide to the players," said Jonathan Byrd, the defending Deere champion. "I think a lot of guys like playing the week before a major, but guys like getting to the British early because they could lose their luggage or something bad could happen. It's a difficult trip.

"So I think you get the best of both worlds with this new flight. You get to play the week before. So your game stays sharp. But you also get to get over quickly."

The $300,000 charter tab was quoted to the event before fuel costs spiked, so it could escalate to an even higher figure with gas approaching $130 per barrel. The same plane will ferry players from the British back across the pond to the Canadian Open, to be staged the the following week. Players will receive two meals on the flight to Manchester and a shuttle service to the Royal Birkdale course upon arrival.

Hey, that type of largesse might even be enough to make guys want to play regardless of the fact that drug testing is set to be unveiled that very week, the PGA Tour has indicated.

Category: Golf
Posted on: May 19, 2008 12:02 pm

On Ryder routs, Seve not full of bull

Severiano Ballesteros says he wants the Ryder Cup to again be akin to a fight "between the bull and a matador."

Of late, after three successive U.S. losses, including the past two by humiliating record margins, the American side has looked more like a pincushion than the feisty, horned beast it once was in the famed competition with Europe.

For that reason, the Spanish legend and Ryder hero said he hopes the U.S. wins this time, lest the matches become an afterthought in a country where fans do not suffer losers for long. I've been making the same case for two years, though many PGA of America officials seem to be in denial about it potentially losing steam among American fans and viewers. If the Americans keep tanking, I guarantee you that Ballesteros will be soon proven correct.

Ballesteros was quoted in the Mirror, a U.K. publication, about how the rivalry needs some spice, controversy and, failing that, some competitiveness at the very least. The Ryder is a huge event throughout Europe, but is risking falling off the relevancy map in the States.

Ballesteros will be ridiculed by some, but he's spot-on this time, as they say across the pond.

"They need to win badly," he told the Mirror. "I hope the Americans win this year in all seriousness. I see the Ryder Cup getting very boring because we are beating them so badly. Everybody is losing interest. I think it will be good if they win the next one. It would give the Ryder Cup a lift.

"I just hope the matches are a little bit closer because they have been no-contests. My heart is always with the Europeans but my head is with the Americans for the good of the trophy."

Ballesteros said the selection of Paul Azinger as the U.S. captain might add some spirit to the rivalry, since Azinger and Seve had some spirited disagreements over the years and that's what the cup has been lacking. He then took what was an apparent shot at religious players.

"We don't need to see the Ryder Cup where the players apologize when they hole a putt or pray when they beat their opponent," Ballesteros said. "And there won't be any apologies for that from Azinger. So I think he will be good for the event. He hates losing and I think we will see a team in his image.

"There is no question I think Europe will still win this time. But I want some controversy and interest. I don't want to see a competition looking like a church service. I want to see a fight. I want to see a bullfight between the bull and the matador."

Amen, compadre.



Category: Golf
Posted on: May 15, 2008 8:32 pm

Oh, the humanity

I sense a trend brewing, and it's not pretty. Some of us can relate.

Georgia native Franklin Langham, playing on a sponsor exemption in the PGA Tour event in Atlanta this week, teed off on the 10th hole in the first round Thursday and left a few souvenirs behind for the fans and neighbors. He swatted four straight tee shots out-of-bounds on the left, made a 13 on his opening hole and was 22-over for the day when play was suspended because of darkness.

If he makes a bogey, he shoots a 95, one of the worst scores on the PGA Tour in years.

So, just to make it worse, he has to come back at dawn to complete the round. And it isn't like he can withdraw with one of those curious, "wink-wink" back injuries, because he was generously given an exemption by AT&T, the sponsor. He played for the college team at nearby Georgia and was raised in Augusta.

Langham, who plays on the Nationwide Tour afler spending several years on the PGA Tour, has professed to having a case of the yips with the driver, a la former British Open champion Ian Baker-Finch, whose erractic tee balls drove him from the game.

It's not getting any better, it seems. In April, Langham shot 90 in a Nationwide event after hitting three balls O.B. on a single hole. Thursday, he played the par-5 holes in 11 over, with a birdie.





Category: Golf
Posted on: May 15, 2008 8:05 pm

How Swede it is

Suzanne Pettersen has a different take or her Scandinavian sister's somewhat abrupt retirement news this week.

Pettersen, who hails from Norway, said she wasn't exactly shocked to hear that world No. 2 Annika Sorenstam had decided to retire at year's end, since she had ben openly talking about quitting the LPGA tour grind for months.

Yet Pettersen, who won five times last year, raises another good point: What was there left to accomplish? With 72 wins, 10 majors, a record-low 59 and eight player-of-the-year awards among her feats, the Swede has slain every dragon that's come at her. Sorenstam wants to try other pursuits and start a family.

"It's always kind of a shock when the word comes out officially," Pettersen said Thursday at the media day for the McDonalds LPGA Championship, the season's second women's major. "I mean, I know she's been thinking of it. It wasn't a big surprise. She kind of halfway said it at the Solheim that that might be her last one.

"I mean, as long as she's happy with her decision. She's done everything for women's golf. She can sit back and really be proud of all she's achieved. There's nothing more for her to prove. She has been the best. She has been one of the best ever. She will set records that everyone will try to chase for the next decade."

A decade at minimum.


Category: Golf
Posted on: May 12, 2008 12:45 pm

You thought Sergio's putter was hot?

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A series of smoky brushfires that broke out over the weekend along Interstate 95 in Central Florida has prompted the evacuation of LPGA headquarters in Daytona Beach.

Connie Wilson, the LPGA's head of communications, said that because of road closures, employees were ordered to remain home. A development across the street from the LPGA property was evacuated Sunday night and the off-ramp that leads to the tour offices remained closed Monday morning, blocked off by a squadron of Florida Highway Patrol cars.

When I blew through there this morning, the troopers all seemed to be staring intently at their on-board computers, massaging their fantasy baseball roster or something. Or maybe they were sleeping.

The LPGA employees certainly are not.

"We're all working from remote locations today," Wilson said.

The fire, burning to the west of I-95, remained partly under control as of mid-day Monday and it's uncertain if tour employees will be allowed back to work Tuesday. The offices themselves, which also house the developmental Duramed Futures Tour, don't appear to be in any immediate danger of fire damage since winds seem to be pushing the fire in the opposite direction.

A section of I-95 in Melbourne, Fla., remained closed Sunday night, prompting many who live in South Florida and attended the Players Championship in the Jacksonville area to make lengthy detours through Orlando or find lodging for the night.






Category: Golf
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