This ought to be a week that Shaun Micheel savors, returning to a major championship where he can wrap himself in gauzy memories of his finest achievement. Instead, he approaches the 100th PGA Championship with a familiar gnawing anxiety, conscious that every mention of his “once upon a time” fairytale victory in 2003 brings detractors eager to emphasize the “once.”
“I look forward to getting back, but I have some trepidation about the noise that’s going to start appearing on social media before too long,” he said last weekend.
Carnoustie’s charms can be elusive, but its cruelties are readily apparent. The old links has scant aesthetic appeal, no alluring views or heaving dunes. Like the village from which it draws its name, Carnoustie is simple and functional, and that function is simple: stress test the world’s finest golfers until just one remains unbroken.
Sometimes not even the winner emerges unscathed from a cross-examination at Carnoustie. Paul Lawrie, the 1999 champion, sought therapy after his victory was widely dismissed as a gift from a clownish Frenchman.
There’s a reason why the lingering images from recent championships here have been of the vanquished, not the victors: Jean Van de Velde barefoot in Barry Burn, Sergio Garcia doubled over in anguish after his putt to win lipped out.
At Carnoustie Opens, one man’s ecstasy is invariably built on another’s agony.
Not at the 147th Open, however. It was won by Francesco Molinari, not lost by his challengers.
It’s been exactly two years and two days since Phil Mickelson was relevant in a tournament that matters.
That was his outstanding duel with Henrik Stenson at Royal Troon in the 145th British Open. He missed the cut in the 146th edition, and the 147th isn’t looking very promising either after a first round of 2-over-par 73.
That’s not to say Mickelson hasn’t made news in those two years, during which he accumulated zero top-20 finishes in six majors played. He ended a five-year winless drought at the WGC-Mexico Championship in March, but for the most part his headlines haven’t been so much earned with fine play as extorted with sideshow stunts.
Accusations of cheating are tossed around as casually as wedding confetti in most sports, whether it’s Tom Brady’s flaccid ball or Neymar’s roll playing. Not in golf, though. The PGA Tour markets itself as a roving Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, in which upright citizens conduct themselves with probity while helping bestow charitable riches in towns across America.
That image isn’t entirely contrived. The overwhelming majority of Tour pros are honest competitors, and public claims of unscrupulous on-course behavior are rare. Sure, not everyone meets the loftiest standards of conduct, but you can appreciate why the Tour’s old motto sacrificed awkward accuracy — “99 Percent of These Guys Are Good” – for comforting sentiment.
When the Rules of Golf make news, it’s almost always due to unwitting infractions or witless enforcement. Seldom because of an alleged deliberate violation. That’s what made the recent episode between Joel Dahmen and Sung Kang at the Quicken Loans National so extraordinary.
It’s 30 minutes from Carnoustie across the River Tay to Scotscraig Golf Club. Unless you’re Brandel Chamblee, in which case the winding journey takes about 15 years.
On July 23, the day after the 147th British Open at Carnoustie concludes, the Golf Channel analyst plans to tee it up at Scotscraig in an effort to qualify for the Senior Open, held that week in St. Andrews. Scotscraig is where he qualified for the 1995 Open at the Old Course, adding a note of nostalgia to his quest.
The number that best defines John Daly’s career depends largely upon whom you ask. His many fans might offer “302” – Daly’s average driving distance in 1997, when he became the first man on the PGA Tour to break that now quaint 300-yard barrier. Or “5,” for his Tour wins, a meager tally given his enormous talent. Perhaps even “2,” for the major victories that place him in rarified company.
For me, the telling number is “48.” That’s how many times Daly has withdrawn from PGA Tour-sanctioned events during his uneven career.
It’s now “49” after his sulky exit from last week’s U.S. Senior Open. That figure omits the eight DQ’s he’s racked up, or his consistently dominating performance in the strokes gained half-hearted effort category.
In an era when relationships among the world’s best golfers lean more toward hugs than hostility, Paul Azinger is an unapologetic throwback to a time when Tour pros would think twice about even giving each other a Heimlich.
He doesn’t play much these days, but Azinger’s love of competition – the honor of it, as much as the thrill – remains undimmed. If only some of today’s players felt as competitive as the guy in the booth at the 118th U.S. Open Championships.
It should come as no surprise that the Fox Sports lead analyst is openly hostile to backstopping, the controversial “helping hand” practice that has been the subject of heated debate on the grounds at Shinnecock Hills.
I chatted recently with a caddie who had the misfortune of being grouped with one of the PGA Tour’s slowest players for the final round of an event in which his boss was contending. Just a few holes in, the twosome was put on the clock. The caddie, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, simmered quietly. The Tortoise quickened for exactly as long as the rules official remained and ground to a near-halt immediately after he departed. The caddie boiled over and angrily whispered directions to the Tortoise on how he ought to go forth and multiply.
Some folks will consider such a comment out of order. They’d be wrong.
This is a big week for one of the biggest hitters on the PGA Tour. Not that you’ll see Brandon Hagy at the FedEx St. Jude Classic. Instead, he’ll be about 600 miles to the north in the less glamorous precincts of Ivanhoe, Ill., where he’ll make the first start in his comeback from injury at the Web.com Tour’s appropriately named Rust-Oleum Championship.
Two themes surface when you mention Jodie Mudd to guys who played the PGA Tour back then.
“Jodie used to have a gorgeous golf swing. He made the game look so simple.”
“I’m not sure anyone was really close to him.”
“Funny how you remember things about someone. He had a huge forward press as he started his swing. Then he just flushed it.”
“He was a quiet man.”
This week is when Mudd makes his annual appearance on Tour, albeit only as a ghostly figure on Players Championship highlight reels. It’s been 28 years since he won and almost that long since he walked away from the game.
The debate over unruly crowd behavior at golf tournaments is – much like those troublesome fans – growing louder, increasingly fractious and more persistent. A welcome respite looms at golf’s marquee event.
You probably won’t hear much chatter on that subject during the Masters, chiefly because you won’t hear much of the hecklers either. Enforcing rules that seem outdated is a tradition unlike any other at Augusta National, but one tradition warrants celebrating: A patron who bellows abuse or inanities at a player quickly will feel security on his collar (it’s always a “him”) and swiftly be shown to the street.
You won’t hear Augusta National chairman Fred Ridley asking for patience or acceptance of the lobotomized louts, or requesting that players simply deal with the disruption. Spectators pay to watch the show, not to be part of it. The Masters Committee understands that.
The PGA Tour has hewed to a familiar script over the last few years, as a succession of recent high schoolers hoist trophies that almost weigh more than they do.
It’s a generation of fine players – these Justin Thomases, Jordan Spieths and Jon Rahms – and many of them seem destined for the Hall of Fame. But there’s a uniformity to their cohort, well-adjusted kids who are more likely to spend tournament nights downing kale smoothies at the gym than shots of bourbon at a saloon.
Which is fair enough. That Tour is long dead, as are most of the guys who lived it.