The swirling winds at Augusta National’s 12th hole have been giving golfers fits for more than eight decades. So much so that a pair of John Hopkins professors created a computer model in 2016 that tried to predict the effects of the ever-present gusts from the gods. True story.
Throughout the years, Phil Mickelson has handled the hole about as well as anyone. Sure, there was that unfortunate double bogey in the final round of 2009 after he shot a record-low 30 on the front nine, but a birdie on Sunday there in 2004 sparked a five under finish over the final seven holes to give him a one-shot win over Ernie Els and a first major title. Mickelson also birdied the hole in the final round in 2010 to stretch his lead to two over Lee Westwood before going on to win his third and final green jacket.
Many would argue Mickelson has an advantage on the short par-3 thanks to being left-handed, but he also may have found the best strategy for the shot. A strategy shared by his former caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay, during an NBC/Golf Channel conference call with reporters on Thursday.
“We had this thing, when I was caddying there called ‘wait on your wind,’ which basically everybody knows if you stand there long enough you’re going to feel the wind blow pretty much every single direction as possible. And it can certainly get in your head a little bit,” Mackay said. “So what we would do is just pick a club for a certain wind and wait for that wind to show up. You had a pretty good idea what that wind would be. We never looked at 11 green. We were more looking over into 13 fairway as to what — the trees and what not were doing over there, if there were any leaves blowing around, things along those lines.”
(By the way, the computer model backed up that looking at the flag on No. 11 was pointless.)
“But my theory always was pick a club for a wind there and you may have to wait five seconds for that wind and you may have to wait a minute for it. But that always seemed to work fairly well in that regard.”
Not exactly great for pace of play, but if there’s any shot in golf that deserves extra time (See: Spieth, Jordan in 2016 along with many others), it’s this one.
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Woods confirmed that fans have cost him shots and trophies over his career
It’s no big secret that golf fans can be ridiculous. For every 100 knowledgable, well-meaning patrons, you get one doofus yelping, “Baba Booey!” or “mashed potatoes!” on a random tee shot. We saw this a few weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open when somebody piped up.
Woods probably gets more of that than anyone, or so said playing partner over the first two days at the Genesis Open, Rory McIlroy. This is the first time Woods and McIlroy have been paired together since the final round of the 2015 Masters.
“It might have been like this like the whole Tiger-mania … but I swear, playing in front of all that, he gives up half a shot a day on the field,” said McIlroy. “Like, it’s two shots a tournament he has to give to the field because of all that that goes on around. So whether that calms down the more he plays and it doesn’t become such a novelty that he’s back out playing again because it’s tiring. I need a couple Advil … I’ve got a headache after all that.”
So what exactly are they yelling?
“Just the whole thing. Guys, you’ve got a six-foot putt, ‘It doesn’t break as much as you think,’ just stuff like this that they don’t have to say,” McIlroy said. “Just stuff. You know, whoever that’s teeing off at 8:30 in the morning doesn’t get that and can just go about his business and just do his thing. That’s tough. He has to deal with that every single time he goes out to play.”
McIlroy was clearly perturbed by the entire scene as thick galleries lined the course at Riviera Country Club to watch Woods play his 5th and 6th rounds of 2018. He went on to miss the cut after shooting 72-76 over the first two days.
“It’s cost me a lot of shots over the years,” confirmed Woods. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there. It’s been a lot because all it takes is one shot on a Thursday that you lose a tournament by a shot on Sunday. What people don’t realize, it’s not just something that happens on Sunday afternoon, this is cumulative and it’s par for the course. I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”
This probably isn’t going to change any time soon. McIlroy is right. Woods being back out on the PGA Tour is still a novelty, and people are excited. He’s played just three events since the end of 2015, and. Hopefully the mashed potato bros will keep the schtick at home.
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Last week in Australia, the PGA Tour of Australasia and Ladies European Tour jointly held the Vic Open. Judging from its coverage, you might not have heard much about it, but it was notable for its unusual format: men and women playing the same course at the same time in two concurrent tournaments, each with equal prize money. Ryan Hawkes won the men’s event and Minjee Lee the women’s. By most accounts, everyone seemed to love it. More importantly, it was a good idea!
This week in Australia, the European Tour holds for the second time its World Super 6 Perth event, a combination stroke-play/match-play event that concludes with five six-hole showdowns on Sunday to crown a winner.
I’m not going to go so far as to say that all the professional golf tours must introduce these types of novelties into their annual schedule—the PGA Tour seems to be doing fine—but it’s always fun when they do. Who didn’t enjoy the team format adopted at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans last year. Most would agree that it elevated the status of that tournament. And who doesn’t love the Match Play when it rolls around the calendar? (Fine, there are a few, but they’re wrong). And beyond the Super 6, the upcoming Belgian Knockout on the European Tour sounds like it’s going to be extremely awesome.
With these examples in mind, I have 10 ideas for the PGA Tour (or any major golfing body, really) to incorporate into their regular-season schedule. I have a long history of making helpful suggestions to the tour—from the Olympics to the FedEx Cup playoffs. So far, the officials in Ponte Vedra Beach have not taken my advice even once. I have a sinking feeling that these ideas might also go unheeded, but the innovation train must chug on.
1. A partners’ event featuring PGA and LPGA players
This one is actually Cheyenne Woods’ idea, outlined after she played in the Vic Open:
The experience got Woods thinking about the possibilities here in the U.S. with a certain famous uncle.
“You could do teams, you could do partners and I would pick (Tiger) as my partner,” she said. “I hope he would pick me! I think that would just be awesome.”
That would be amazing for all the right reasons, and also for some of the wrong ones: Watching the more uptight dudes get angry at their LPGA partners? It would be a solid sideshow.
2. A team event featuring captain’s picks
We’re starting to see this in All-Star games—the NBA does it now, and the Pro Bowl tried it for a while—and it would be pretty spectacular in golf. The format could be pretty simple, where teams of eight compete in stroke play, or it could have match-play elements at tournament’s end, akin to the Belgian Knockout. But the big novelty would be the captain’s picks. This isn’t like the Ryder Cup, where someone like Tom Watson picks a guy because he sent flattering text messages and then pretends it was because of his grit, or something. No, this would be public—a group of the top players in the world would be designated as captains, and they’d pick their teams at the start of the tournament on TV.
The problem with this format for the players is that it would entail great public humiliation, especially for really strong players who get picked last because nobody likes them. But what great motivation! Wouldn’t you want to see Patrick Reed in unquenchable anger mode, beating Rickie Fowler, 10 and 8, because he’s upset at being picked 150th?
3. Intra-American Regional Ryder Cup
I want an America-only tournament where four different regions compete against each other in a Ryder Cup-style competition. I am from the northeast, and I know my region would get absolutely waxed by the southeast and southwest and probably the northwest, too, but I want to become the first diehard Team Northeast fan. I’ll be featured on the local news at age 90 when they finally win one, just sobbing my eyes out, saying, “I thought I’d die without ever seeing them win!” (This would be based on where each player was born, by the way, not by where they live, since they all live on the same street in Florida.)
In reality, the regions would probably have to be: Southeast, Southwest (including Texas), California and THE NORTH. My team would have an entire half of the country, and we’d still get slaughtered. I have very little faith in a team whose future depends on the success of Vermont native son Keegan Bradley.
4. “Last Man Standing” Elimination Playoff Tournament
Here’s how I see this going: First three days are basically normal, and half the field gets cut after Saturday. After that, you divide the remaining 80 players into 16 groups of five. Those groups of five players start out together on the first hole on Sunday morning, and play a sudden-death playoff until only one remains from the group. The 16 playoff winners are then sorted into four groups of four, and they do it again. That will leave four golfers, and those four go head-to-head in the very last playoff group, with the winner taking top prize.
You may have to read that last paragraph a few times to understand it, and even then it may still sound crazy. But I think it would make for an extremely compelling, extremely chaotic, and extremely weird Sunday. I would not miss it. The beauty of it is that each group could end on the first hole when someone birdies or eagles, or it could extend indefinitely. You could theoretically win on Sunday by playing just three holes.
5. The Random Bag Tournament
Each player in the field is randomly assigned a bag of clubs from another player each day. The winner of the tournament will have played with four different bags that are not his own, and could be safely judged the most versatile, able golfer of them all.
A few predictions for how this would work out: First, Dustin Johnson would win, because he is very talented but seems like he may not notice that he was playing with different clubs. Second, Bryson DeChambeau would nearly go insane. Third, the players forced to play with Bryson DeChambeau’s clubs would actually go insane. Fourth, Pat Perez would break somebody else’s clubs in a fit of anger.
6. A Miniature Golf Tournament
The Major Series of Putting seemed to resonate with many people late last year. If you forced them to take a miniature golf tournament seriously with a real cut and the same prize money as a normal event, this would be great. I want to see Bubba Watson rant to Ted Scott about the unfairness of the windmill hole.
7. A Four-Club Event
You get a putter, one wedge, one iron, and one wood. Plan well, and good luck to you.
8. An Old-Club Event
Everyone has to use the same persimmon niblicks and mashies and brassies, or whatever. This would obviously have to take place in Scotland, and for added historical accuracy, mounted English knights could randomly chase certain players around the course.
9. A “Scores Reset” Tournament
You cut 40 golfers every day, but after the cut, scores go back to even. It would put a premium on both consistency and pressure play, since you can’t have a single “off” day, but you also need to step up on Sunday when everyone is starting from the same place. I get the sense that if golf worked this way all the time, Rory McIlroy would either have won twice as many tournaments, or half as many, since his Friday/Saturday 78s would eliminate him before he could turn in the Sunday 64.
10. The “Distractions Welcome” Tournament
Every single hole is like the 16th at TPC Scottsdale. You can’t touch the player, or otherwise impede his swing, but everything else is fair game. Every single player who could feasibly skip this tournament would do so, but for the players who need status, it would be a necessary stop. I’ve seen firsthand how shaken players are after coming off the 16th hole at the Waste Management, so this might actually induce real, lasting trauma. Especially if the tournament was held in Philadelphia—people are legitimately crazy there. But hey, Mr. 150th place on the points list, if you want to keep your card, you’re going to have to deal with the guy in a hot-dog costume who somehow has a picture of your wife on a placard and is taunting you by shouting the name of your middle-school bully. (You really can find anything on Google, can’t you?)
OK, so, look: A lot of these ideas are outlandish. And I’m not necessarily sure if any of them are feasible, even the not-as-stupid ones. But if the stock market crashes, and the tour is desperate, they’re here on the trash heap of ideas, waiting for the moment when there’s no choice but to shake things up in professional golf.
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It took just two PGA Tour rounds in 2018 for another star golfer to make a caddie change. This time, though, it’s only temporary.
The AP’s Doug Ferguson reported on Saturday that Justin Thomas’ regular caddie, Jimmy Johnson, is injured. And the reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year will have a very familiar face filling in this weekend in Hawaii: His father, Mike, a longtime PGA professional.
Johnson carried Thomas’ bag the first two rounds at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where Thomas was 27th (out of 34 players) through 36 holes. Johnson has been Thomas’ caddie since 2015 and the two have won all seven of JT’s PGA Tour titles together, including his first major at last year’s PGA Championship. Thomas is the defending champ in Maui.
So good luck to Mike Thomas as he takes on this replacement gig. He’s got a lot to live up to — and he’s got some pretty hilly terrain to navigate at Kapalua’s Plantation Course.
UPDATE No. 1:
Justin Thomas shot a two-over 75 for the second consecutive day.
“Legs are tired,” Mike Thomas said after the round. “Always nice to be able to do that with your son though.”
It was the first time Thomas has caddied for his son since the 2016 QBE Shootout. He added that someone else will be on the bag next week as his son tries to defend another title in Hawaii at the Sony Open.
UPDATE No. 2:
Jim “Bones” Mackay, Phil Mickelson’s longtime bagman turned NBC/Golf Channel analyst, will fill in as Justin Thomas’ caddie next week. Yep, this is really happening.
We’re going to go ahead and say that’s the most exciting caddie-related news of all time.
SOUTHPORT, England — Brooks Koepka’s biggest smile following an opening 65 at the 146th British Open had nothing to do with how he played, but rather, a Las Vegas trip to celebrate his U.S. Open victory. “We had fun,” Koepka said with a wide grin, befitting of one of those What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas commercials. When asked to elaborate, Koepka drew laughs in the media center with a coy, “It was fun,” before adding as little detail as possible. “I had a few friends out. We had a good time.”
In case you don’t get the drift, Koepka wasn’t talking about playing golf in Sin City. In fact, you won’t believe how infrequently he touched his clubs in the five weeks between winning at Erin Hills and showing up at Royal Birkdale. Twice. A round with his agent and a photo shoot. That’s it.
Yet there was Koepka on Thursday, grabbing a share of the early lead with Jordan Spieth. So how was he able to snap back into tournament mode so quickly despite an extended break? Quite easily, actually.
“It’s just a mental thing. I don’t think it’s anything else. If I start playing four or five weeks in a row, everything just seems to get nonchalant, I guess you could say,” said Koepka, who admitted to struggling more when he went back to the gym following his Vegas jaunt. “You get to be in the routine and get used to it. And it just doesn’t seem — it just doesn’t ever seem like I’m fully ready to play. If you take some time off and kind of recharge mentally, physically, I feel like I’m in really good shape right now, even with that time off mentally.”
Jason Gay wrote a story in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal about how Roger Federer has used extended periods of rest to his advantage late in his career, most recently winning last week’s Wimbledon after sitting out the entire clay season. In Federer’s case, the time off is taken to combat the tennis great turning 36 next month. With Koepka, a gym fanatic nearly a decade younger, the benefits he reaps from rest all have to do with motivation.
“I was chomping at the bit to get back, kind of those last few days at home. I was excited to get over here. I just wanted to play golf. I just wanted to get back inside the ropes. I wanted to have those juices flowing,” Koepka said. “Sometimes it’s hard even when you’re practicing at home, if you’re playing with buddies or just playing by yourself, really hard to get up for it. I mean, I think — it’s funny, I’ll play with my dad and shoot 75 every time or higher. It’s hard to get into it. It’s something, you just need a little bit of competitiveness and a little bit of something to get me going.”
Koepka didn’t really get going on Thursday until birdieing the par-4 eighth and then ripping off three consecutive birdies on 11-13. He made his lone bogey on No. 16, but bounced back with an eagle on the par-5 17th by holing a difficult bunker shot.
“Seventeen was actually a terrible lie in the bunker,” Koepka said. “It was in one of the those rake marks. And my caddie told me to get inside 10 feet; that would be pretty good. And luckily enough it went in.”
Lucky or not, Koepka taking apart a course in a completely different manner than his destruction of Erin Hills was impressive. Not that we should be too surprised that a player who honed his skills in Europe before becoming a PGA Tour star is comfortable playing links golf. And we definitely shouldn’t be surprised that Koepka is comfortable on the big stage.
“Anytime you’re excited, you’re extremely focused when you’re out here,” Koepka said. “And it’s a major championship, and if you can’t get up for that, you might as well go home.”
If Koepka keeps playing like this, he might be going home with another trophy. Well, after another trip to Vegas first.
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Rough start derails McIlroy at Scottish Open
Rory McIlroy had hoped to bounce back from a missed cut at the DDF Irish Open and build some momentum for Royal Birkdale. Instead, he got more of the same during a disappointing opening round at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open.
McIlroy wobbled out of the gates, playing his first four holes in 4 over at Dundonald Links including a double bogey on No. 13. While he birdied the next hole and rallied with three more birdies from Nos. 3-7, the Ulsterman closed with a disappointing bogey on No. 9, his final hole of the day, to post a 2-over 74.
That score left him behind both Rickie Fowler (67) and Henrik Stenson (72) in the day’s marquee grouping, and he sat seven shots off the lead shared by Fowler, Ian Poulter, Andrew Dodt and Callum Shinkwin.
McIlroy hoped a final-round 64 at the Travelers Championship would provide a spark, but thus far he remains adrift. This is now his third straight round of even par or worse, dating back to last week when he shot 72-73 at Portstewart during a week when 24 under won the tournament.
McIlroy has work to do in the second round to avoid back-to-back missed cuts, a fate he has not suffered since missing consecutive cuts at the BMW PGA Championship and Irish Open in May 2015.