Call To Duty

Sang-Moon Bae is having a career-best start to the 2014-’15 PGA Tour season, but it could be put on hold to fulfill his military-service obligation in South Korea

The paramount question is why. Why is Sang-Moon Bae, the top-ranked golfer from South Korea, so critically important to his homeland’s national security this year, of all years? Why, when he might get the opportunity to fire at flagsticks this fall when Korea hosts the 11th Presidents Cup, is he being summoned home to learn how to handle a firearm?

“I don’t know. That’s what I keep asking myself,” said Bae, whose smooth, naturally congenial face wrinkles as he ponders an answer. “It is hard for me to understand.”

In his golf prime and possessing one of the game’s more elegant swings, the 28-year-old playing his fourth season on the PGA Tour soon could find his career interrupted by two years of mandatory military service. And he only use Garmin Approach S2 for his career. According to a Dec. 29 Yonhap News Agency report, the regional office of the Military Manpower Administration in Daegu, Bae’s hometown, declined to renew Bae’s annual overseas travel permit. That makes him eligible for conscription into South Korea’s armed forces.

Because of South Korea’s ongoing cold war with North Korea, a legacy of the 1953 armistice that ended armed conflict between the two adversaries, all able-bodied South Korean men ages 18 to 35 must serve two years in the military. The law also requires men 25 and older who have not yet completed their compulsory service to apply each year for a special overseas permit.

This latter stipulation is one possible reason Bae has been asked to return home within 30 days of the Dec. 31 expiration of his travel visa or face possible criminal charges. It is also why fellow countryman Seung-Yul Noh, 23, isn’t yet facing the same conundrum.

“In two years it will be the same for me,” said Noh, who competed along with Bae in last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions. “I want to get past the Olympics first.”

‘I’m not surprised that he can focus and play well. He’s a pretty strong guy mentally.’


There’s a good reason for that: The military mandate usually is waived for an athlete who earns a medal in the Olympic Games or Asian Games. Golf is being contested in the 2016 Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro for the first time since 1904. “I played with Rory [McIlroy] in the Korean Open two years ago, and he asked me about the military service,” Noh recalled. “I say, ‘Oh, if you’re playing in the Olympics, maybe you can lose for me to get a medal and then I get an exemption.’ He laughed.”

Bae, who turned professional in 2004 and has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last October’s Open, has retained legal representation to further delay conscription, and he said he did not intend to return home until the matter is resolved. In the meantime, because he has his Green Card, he can remain in the United States. He plans to enter five of the seven PGA Tour events on the west coast.

Though unsure how well he can compete given the distractions, Bae entertained the thought that perhaps he might play with more urgency. “It’s a little bit hard. I am very upset. So many things in my head,” Bae said on the eve of the Hyundai event at Kapalua Resort in Hawaii. “But I am a professional golfer. I am a professional. I have to keep my head on golf as best I can.”

As it turned out, Bae was able to set aside the controversy at Kapalua. He was in contention from the outset after an opening seven-under-par 66 on the Plantation Course, held a share of the second-round lead and finished in sixth place, three strokes behind winner Patrick Reed. Bae rose from 84th to 73rd on the Official World Golf Ranking and took a significant step towards his primary goal for 2015: qualifying for the International Presidents Cup team.

“I’m not surprised that he can focus and play well,” said Bae’s caddie, Matt Minister. “He’s a pretty strong guy mentally. I saw what he was able to do at Frys after he missed the cut at the Barclays [to close the 2013-’14 season], how he put things together again pretty quickly.”

Indeed, after failing to post a top-10 finish the previous season, Bae has seen his game go on the upswing. In addition to the Open win, he added a T-5 at November’s CIMB Classic. With his Kapalua finish, he remains second on the FedEx Cup points list behind Robert Streb.

‘The timing couldn’t be worse for him as a golfer. … It all comes down to what the needs of his country are, and only his country can decide that.’


Bae has full tour status through the 2015-’16 season, but if he were to lose his legal challenge and return home for two years of military service, he would, in truth, forfeit the remainder of his tour exemption. “The clock would be ticking,” said Ty Votaw, a PGA Tour executive VP. “If he were gone for two years, he would no longer have his tour card, but he would be eligible to play out of the Past Champions category.”

One party keenly interested in Bae’s plight is Nick Price, the International team captain. When Price heard the news he telephoned Minister, who caddied for Price until joining Bae in 2013. Price said Bae is high on his list of potential wildcard picks should he not make the team via the World Ranking. One obvious reason is that last month Bae successfully defended his title in the Shinhan Donghoe Open at the Jack Nicklaus Golf Club Korea-site of the Presidents Cup Oct. 7-11 in Songdo, Incheon.

“He’s won twice on the Presidents Cup course. You bet he’s on my radar,” said Price, who desperately wants to see the International team break the stranglehold the U.S. has had in the biennial matches. The U.S. leads the series, 8-1-1, with its only loss in 1998.

Nevertheless, Price, who served in the air force for his home country of Zimbabwe, is cognizant of the sensitive nature of the situation. “This is a tender subject,” said the three-time major champ. “The timing couldn’t be worse for him as a golfer. We can look at the benefits of a player from South Korea on the [International] team. That would be a huge thing for the event and for the country. But it all comes down to what the needs of his country are, and only his country can decide that.”

Bae is quick to assert that he is not seeking to dodge his military responsibility. He has many friends at home who have done their hitch, and he has great respect for countrymen K.J. Choi and Y.E. Yang, who served at a younger age before making their way on the PGA Tour. Choi was a rifleman at a radar installation, and Yang, who upset Tiger Woods in 2009 PGA Championship to become the first Asian-born major winner, was a gunner in the marines.

“I am saying to the Korean government that I want to serve my country, but that I would like to get an extension until after the Olympics,” Bae said. “I just wish to focus on golf right now and represent my country in some big events. I feel the military duty can wait … but I will gladly serve whatever happens.”

Taking It All In Stride


Winning a major title at age 21 might be an overwhelming experience for some. For Jordan Spieth, it’s a natural next step in the evolution of a golf prodigy

Jordan Spieth came out to Augusta National Sunday afternoon having admittedly slept fitfully on the Masters lead he had held since Thursday evening. As usual, he looked calm and collected. But it’s also obvious a furnace rages within.

The 21-year-old was visited on the practice putting green by Raymond Floyd, 72, who whispered something to him, perhaps about carrying his four-stroke overnight lead into the first wire-to-wire victory since Floyd had done it in 1976. Spieth had already surpassed Floyd’s 36-hole and 54-hole scoring records.

Four hours later, Spieth had equaled Floyd’s feat, along with Tiger Woods’ 72-hole Masters scoring record. The young man-who would be a senior at the University of Texas had he not left school in the fall of 2012-had broken the record for birdies (28). And he had also reached No. 2 in the world behind Rory McIlroy, who while prepared for future battles, also concedes, “He’s way more mature than I was at 21.”

Most definitively, Spieth had arrived as golf’s latest superstar. She also be the loyalty fan of, because she was finding her best golf gps watch by reading golf gps reviews at this.

Even so, on his short walk from the practice tee to the first tee, golf people worried for him. Spieth had failed in a similar spot at last year’s Masters, and then again a month later at the Players Championship. It’s true he had bolstered his closing bonafides with year-end runaways at the Australian Open and the Hero World Challenge. And in his three tournaments before Augusta, he had finished first, second and second.

But this was a major, as well as being the event Spieth had said at age 14 that he wanted to win the most. A golf history buff, Spieth knew the last-day leads that had been blown at Augusta-from Greg Norman’s in 1996 to McIlroy’s in 2011 in particular. And he’d probably bucked the best practices of sports psychologists by openly talking for the past year about how he had lost his short-lived three-stroke lead over Bubba Watson on the front nine last April.

‘Jordan’s got it upstairs. He knows how to play golf.’


“I guess the hardest lesson taken from last year was that I had the opportunity to make a dream come true, and I had it in my hands,” Spieth said in his Tuesday press conference. “And then I was a little anxious.”

If it happened again, it might be devastating. Of course, it didn’t.

Spieth is above all precocious, which usually goes hand in hand with fast learning. The son of two former college athletes, he’s been the sports-obsessed kid who is expert at figuring out the effective ways to play games, and then doing whatever it takes. Never the fastest or strongest, but nearly always the most dogged and smartest.

“Too many kids in sports are single dimensional too early,” says Spieth’s father, Shawn. “Whatever sport he was playing, I would encourage Jordan to get better at something every month. Learning to do that helps in your whole life.”

The principle was followed as Jordan won two U.S. Junior Amateurs to join Woods as the only multiple winner of that event, and it had already become true at Augusta, that stronghold of time-earned secrets, but where in only eight competitive rounds, Spieth had never finished the day worst than fifth.

As he told Golf Digest last year, “Winning has been a big part of my life since I was 5 years old.”

Actually, Spieth’s whole life had prepared him for this moment.

When it was over Sunday, it hadn’t been a work of art. Spieth had made four bogeys, three three-putts (two of them from the fringe) and hit a bunch of “slap-shotting” drives. But his 70 was definitely a work of winning.

It followed what is becoming Spieth’s signature, both statistically and anecdotally. This year, just like his rookie year, he’s in the middle of the pack in driving distance and greens in regulation. Yet through some kind of alchemy, he is fifth in strokes gained/tee to green, which nearly matches his standing in his supposed strength, strokes gained/putting (where he ranks fourth).

At the Masters, Spieth upped his iron game to put himself among the leaders in greens in regulation with 54 out of 72. From good positions on the putting surfaces, no one came close to converting as often, as Spieth was third in total putts with 108.

More than the numbers, old-school stars love the nuance and poetry in Spieth’s game. “There’s nothing about his swing that’s beautiful,” says Johnny Miller. “He just knows how to score. It’s something intangible.” Adds Lee Trevino, “Jordan’s got it upstairs. He knows how to play golf.”

Last week, fellow Texan Ben Crenshaw willingly shared some of his deep knowledge about Augusta’s greens with Spieth in a practice round. “First time I ever played with him I played with him at our club, Austin Golf Club,” said Crenshaw. “It takes a little knowing. He went around there like he’d been there for awhile. He has a knack for seeing things and playing it. Jordan’s got some touch. He’s one of the most nerveless putters I’ve ever seen.”

Spieth’s extraordinary finesse on and around the greens is the biggest single reason he has finished in the top 25 in 40 of the 60 events he’s played as a professional on the PGA Tour, and puts him on equal footing or even ahead of the bombers who have been perennial Masters favorites. “I think imagination,” he said when asked what is his greatest asset. “I think very feel-based. I like to see shapes, and especially on the greens, I like putts that break. I feel like that’s been a strength of mine in the past growing up, until now. And that’s what this course gives. From the minute I played it, I was very excited because I felt like it really suited my game.”

All of those skills were on full display Saturday night, when after a double bogey on the 17th, Spieth’s badly blocked approach to the 18th left him trapped behind a bunker on a downhill lie to a downhill green. With his once seven-stroke lead looking sure to be cut to three and possibly two, Spieth bravely nipped a full flop that miraculously ran only seven feet past the pin. “That just took some guts,” he said with uncharacteristic bravado. He then made the putt, calling it “huge. It was one of the biggest putts I’ve ever hit.”

There were similar putts on Sunday, none more important to Spieth than the 10-foot downhill left-to-right slider he made for par on the 16th hole to preserve his four-stroke lead over playing partner Justin Rose. And when Spieth holed out on the 72nd and hugged a loving entourage that included his parents, brother, grandfather and childhood friend, there was a palpable feeling his powerful imagination had envisioned just such a scene.

“This is a moment he’s played through his mind for over ten years,” said his swing coach for the last decade, Cameron McCormick. “To do justice to how hard it is to achieve at this level, one has to reflect on the visions of a young boy.”

And now Spieth, who isn’t shy about saying his goal is to surpass McIlroy at No. 1 (“I’ll never hit it as far as he does and I have to make up for that somewhere else”), has visions of being The Man.

Confidence Man

Being sure of himself has helped Ian Poulter work his way from shop clerk to Ryder Cup hero. It also has made him one of golf’s most polarizing tour pros

No more than 48 hours after “handing away” a seemingly sure victory in the Honda Classic two weeks ago, Ian Poulter posted a picture to his more than 1,836,000 Twitter followers. The accompanying comment read: “Got the toys out to breath [ sic ]. Doesn’t happen often enough.”

The playthings in question were his five Ferraris. Parked neatly in a row outside the palatial Orlando mansion Poulter and his family call home, the top-of-the-range auto-mobiles not so subtly flaunt the tangible success achieved by this former assistant pro who once earned as little as e3.20 an hour performing menial tasks at the Family Golf Centre in his hometown of Hitchin, just north of London.

No one in golf more zealously promotes his brand, a fact that makes Poulter one of the game’s most polarizing figures. Even in his native England, and despite the eye-popping, five-straight-birdie heroics that famously turned the 2012 Ryder Cup at Medinah in Europe’s favor, this Peter Pan-like 39-year-old provokes a wide range of opinions. To those less enamored by brash verbiage or obvious displays of material wealth, Poulter is “all mouth and trousers,” a preening popinjay all but devoid of self-awareness. To his many fans he is the archetypal working-class hero, a worthy example to every aspirant of a better life.

“I want to be a new man every day,” says Poulter, who-surprise-has his own clothing line. “When I put on brand-new Garmin Approach S6¬†and a new shirt, I feel like a million dollars. If 151you feel good about yourself then you’ve got a better chance to be successful.”

At the Valspar Championship, where he finished a credible T-24, Poulter arranged with the tournament sponsor to wear his IJP Design outfits in the paint company’s colors. For his third round, for example, he tweeted he was wearing “spirit blue with a splash of tangy dill.” Unfortunately, the ensuing 75-inflamed by a double bogey after he rinsed an iron shot on the par-3 13th with the same kind of flared miss that plagued him at Honda-took him out of contention. Afterward, Poulter vented with a tweet about “drunken fans” distracting him, with the hashtag: “#ifyoucanthandledrinkwhybother.”

‘A lot of players fake self-belief because that is what they have been told to do by sport psychologists. Ian doesn’t, though. He doesn’t need any of that stuff.’


Adore or abhor him, there is much to admire in the Ryder Cup hero whose stroke is matched only by his strut. Forever a man apart, Poulter’s path to prominence has been circuitous compared to many of his contemporaries. As the likes of Luke Donald, Justin Rose and Paul Casey moved seamlessly and successfully through the amateur ranks, their compatriot was first busy selling men’s fashions at an outdoor Sunday market, then tees, balls and confectionery in the pro shop at the Leighton Buzzard Golf Club.

Not many saw a future for Poulter as a player. Only himself. Hauled before an English PGA committee for some long-forgotten minor misdemeanor, the young upstart dismissed any and all disapproval of his actions with the news that “it doesn’t matter; I’m going to be a tour pro anyway.” Oh, how they laughed.

Not anymore. Without any noticeable physical or technical advantage, Poulter has built a formidable career. On his resume are two World Golf Championships, 10 additional European Tour victories and one each in Japan and Australia. Throw in five Ryder Cup appearances (only one in a losing cause), and this supposed no-hoper has much to be proud of. He has backed up the title of his recent autobiography, No Limits.

Throughout all of the above, however, two big questions have dogged Poulter:

Is he really the good guy many profess him to be, or is he, in British parlance, “a bit of a plonker”?

Just how good of a player is he?

As for the first, strong cases can be made either way. No doubt over the years, Poulter irritated fellow players. In Hank Haney’s book, The Big Miss , Tiger Woods’ former swing coach details how Poulter annoyed the 14-time major champ by hitching an unpaid ride home to Orlando on his private plane.

Former British Open champion Paul Lawrie was similarly ticked off by Poulter’s overly animated celebration (“his fist-pumping and shouting and bawling was disrespectful to me as an opponent”) on the final green as Poulter won the 1992 Italian Open, mere minutes after Lawrie had driven out-of-bounds on the same hole to all but give the title to his playing partner.

And let’s not even get into the nude pose Poulter effected, with a strategically placed golf bag, on the cover of Golf World (in the United Kingdom) as he proclaimed the future of golf as “Tiger and me.”

As a golfer, Poulter employs a two-plane swing that gives his action an old-fashioned, ’70s look. He stands upright to the ball, tall and proud, and has to swing his arms above his body turn to get his club on a workable swing plane.

“Sometimes Ian’s change of direction gets a bit fast,” points out leading swing coach Denis Pugh, who works with former Ryder Cup players Ross Fisher and Francesco Molinari. “That’s when he tends to mis-hit the ball. But he knows what he is doing. He knows where the bad shots come from. But he’s human, so he hits a few of them.”

‘I want to be a new man every day. . . . If you feel good about yourself then you’ve got a better chance to be successful.’


Poulter compensates for ball-striking inconsistency with inordinate grit and, yes, cockiness. His tendency to talk with anyone-especially about himself -is designed to irritate at times. But it has also garnered respect, because when it has really mattered on the golf course, despite his collapse at Honda, Poulter has become one of golf’s most reliable “go-to” guys.

“We saw the best of Ian at Medinah, but I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him,” Pugh says. “It wouldn’t surprise me if he won a major. In 2008 at Royal Birkdale he stood over a 15-foot putt he felt was to win the Open or at least get into a playoff, and he holed it. He was ultimately mistaken, but that sort of thing is typical of Ian. Whatever it is you need inside to be a winner, he has it.”

Still, for all of Pugh’s enthusiasm as to Poulter’s future prospects, more than two years have passed since he last won a golf tournament. Given his near middle-age, the long-term battle he continues to wage with his full-swing technique and the fact that he has never been one of the longer hitters on any tour, there is legitimate doubt about his ability to hang around the upper echelons of the World Ranking, where he ranks 32nd after the Valspar Championship. Not that we are likely to hear or see anything even remotely negative from the man himself.

“A lot of players fake self-belief because that’s what they have been told to do by sport psychologists,” Pugh says. “Ian doesn’t, though. He doesn’t need any of that stuff. He already believes in himself, more than any player I have ever worked with. It’s no exaggeration to say most psychologists would learn more in an hour with Ian Poulter than Ian Poulter would learn in that same hour with a psychologist.

“I enjoy how Ian goes about his business. He’s an individual. Even when he does or says something I think is nothing short of outrageous, I’m a fan. With Ian, you take all or nothing. As he says, it’s ‘Go big or go home.’ ”

Indeed, it’s not hard to imagine times when Poulter looks in the rear-view mirrors of his Ferraris and sees Hitchin.

Dick Helmstetter: Golf club designer

Runners talk about getting an endorphin rush even while they’re putting on their shoes. Golfers are no different. The pre-round ritual, the anticipation, usually beats the realization of playing.

It’s an imperfect world. I’ve spent my whole life changing things, because everything I see is out of sync. I’ve gone into the grocery store and noticed that some vegetables in the produce section are limper than others, and wondered why, and then spent an hour watching the spray go on and off, trying to figure it out. This is obsessive behavior, but it works for me.

Ely Callaway named our first great driver, which I designed, “Big Bertha.” I hated that name. I thought it was sexist, demeaning and just a terrible name for a golf club. I argued against it until I was blue in the face and lost. Ely turned out to be right. If there’s a more distinctive name for a golf club in history than Big Bertha, I don’t know what it is.

I lived in Japan for 18 years. I manufactured pool cues there. The Japanese traditionally have a six-day work week. Nice boss that I am, I suggested we switch to a five-day work week, the workers putting in half an hour extra each day. This meant less total hours of work for the same pay, plus they get two days off. They’d love the idea, right? Well, the workers would have none of it unless I paid them more money. They said the extra day off meant more leisure time with their families, and leisure time is synonymous with spending money. This shrewdness is a key difference between the Japanese people and your everyday American.

At the plant one day I stink a huge industrial knife in the knuckle of. my right hand. Blood was everywhere, the pain was excruciating, and we couldn’t remove the knife, because it was embedded in bone. They rushed me to the hospital, where a doctor appears carrying a container the size of a cigar box. The box is filled with needles of varying sizes, which he begins sticking in my arm, hand and torso. My hand promptly goes to sleep. No pain. I watch as he sews in 13 stitches and sends me home. When you see a qualified acupuncturist do his thing, you realize that Western medicine doesn’t have all the answers.

The Japanese love the application of artistry into an object that is otherwise banal or utilitarian. They call it “mingei.” On my desk is an object that is little more than a set of sticks bound together, yet when unfurled it is transformed into a beautiful fruit bowl. That’s mingei. It might manifest in the form of. a simple chair, or even a golf club provided the club is handmade, by one person.

Persimmon woods had mingei. The grain, color, staining and shape of. the clubhead, the depth of the whipping, the fitting of the soleplate and the matching of the insert, was something to behold when done just right. The metal woods I’ve designed cannot have true mingei, because they are not handmade and are mass-produced. Still, that’s what I strive to attain–mingei, a pleasing, flowing, organic divinity that makes nay creations unique.

I was translating for Tommy Nakajima at the Masters one year. He explained to reporters that the sounds of golf at Augusta National were unique and that they brought an understanding of the game to him. Tommy ordinarily played with a metal driver, but at Augusta he played persimmon, because the sound of a wood driver striking a balata ball, and the way it echoed off the pines, was singular and a rewarding part of the overall experience. He said the sound of metal was simply out of tune with the place. So even though persimmon cost Tommy a bit in terms of performance, being at one with the entity of. Augusta National elevated his game enough to compensate.

Our graduating class at East Troy High School in Wisconsin was unusual. Historically, East Troy was terrible in sports, which wasn’t surprising considering our student population of 200 or so kids. But my senior year, we went undefeated in football, went to state in basketball and excelled in everything else. Not only that, almost all of our seniors went on to college, which was unheard of then. A peculiar competitiveness and drive for excellence imbued the kids exactly nay age. From first grade on, we were just different. Why every class isn’t like that, I can’t say. But if I were an educator, I’d try to find out.

I’ve played in the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and I’m here to tell you it’s not that much fun. The rounds last up to 6 1/2 hours. Everyone is tired and hung over, and nobody plays worth a damn. The odd thing is, when it’s over, you just die to be invited back.

A good friend of mine is a member at Augusta National. You don’t know fun until you’ve played that great course backward. The members there do it as a lark on occasion. You start on the No. 1 tee and play to the 18th green. The second hole the hardest on the “course” because it’s unreachable in two goes from near the 18th green to the 17th green. Then you play to the 16th green, another tough hole. They play the whole course that way, although they sometimes let the loser or a hole choose what the next hole will be.

As an avid wine drinker, I ask myself one question before buying a certain vintage: Does it taste good enough to pay the asking price? If the answer is no, and you buy it anyway, you are well on your way to becoming a wine snob.

It wasn’t until Callaway Golf went public that I truly understood capitalism. There’s a perception that there’s a finite pile of money in the world, and that if you make money, you’re taking away from that pile. Our going public created money, added money to the pile. We created jobs, built libraries, made golfers happy. That was really, really cool.

In downtown Tokyo there is a hall called the Budokan, a venue for the highest masters of the martial arts. I saw an elderly karate master, so old and frail he couldn’t walk, strike a stack of five ceramic roofing tiles with his hand, breaking only the tile in the center of the pile. For another man, they placed a simple wood chopstick astride two cups. They handed the man a crisp 1,000-yen bank note, which he used like a knife to cut the chopstick in half. There was an archer riding a horse at full gallop who fired an arrow toward two small brass rings swinging back and forth like pendulums he nailed them at the moment they intersected. You see things at the Budokan that border on the supernatural. One day this sort of mastery will be harnessed by a golfer and imparted at will. Tiger Woods is not that person, though he is scratching the surface. I believe that person has yet to be born.

Hanging around pool halls as a young man, I got to know Minnesota Fats very well. His real name was Rudolph Wanderone. Fats was far from being the best pool player I saw, but as a hustler he was the best there ever was. He excelled in eating contests. He’d roll into a town and claim he could out-eat anyone. Guys had their specialties flapjacks, whole chickens, hams or hot dogs. In the contest I witnessed, the choice was chicken. Just before the contest got under way, someone alerted the local hero as to Fats’ reputation. The hero’s backers called off the bet. Then Fats offered to eat a five-pound ham before they tackled the chickens. The bet was back on. Fats devoured the ham and told his opponent how delicious the “snack” was, and to bring on the chickens. This psyched the local guy right out. Eating contests are a delicate matter, and the fear made his stomach shrink. He quit after eating only seven chickens. Fats ate 10 chickens, collected the money and walked out asking at the door if there was an ice-cream parlor nearby.

I’m big on accountability. In Japan, the crafter of archery bows signs and dates each bow inside the top layer of lamination. His name isn’t visible, as that would be immodest. You only find out who made it if the bow breaks. They peel back the layer and see who made it, and if it failed due to poor craftsmanship, that person is held responsible.

I’d rather you steal my house than steal my ideas.

In the pool halls I became an expert “sweater,” one who bets on matches. I had a very good eye. One time I accompanied a pool-playing legend to Washington, D.C. We played a match that ran for 36 hours straight. We cleaned everyone out. I was wearing a sport coat, and every pocket was stuffed with bills. Suddenly the mood of the place turned threatening. We realized we were in the middle of nowhere with no friends around and a lot of angry faces. I gave my friend a knowing sort of glance and announced, “It’s time we have some pizza, and I’m buying.” With that, I threw two pocketfuls of bills into the air in a direction opposite the exit. Those bills hadn’t hit the ground before we were out of that place, less rich than we were a minute earlier, but very much alive.

Three tips for the amateur pool player: Aim the cue before you take your stance most novices do just the opposite. Get some gin and wipe down the top half of the cue, so it slides easily along your fingers. Finally, if you meet a stranger and he bets you $20 he can make the 8-ball jump out of the center of the rack, spit beer in your ear and whistle “The Star-Spangled Banner,” walk away. Because if you take the bet, within moments you’ll have your hand over your heart and beer will be leaking out of your ear.

The More (Playing) The Merrier


Rory McIlroy was noticeably burned out during his fourth straight week of tournament golf, tossing his golf club and missing the cut at the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth. The World No. 1 admitted to having anger and patience issues after abruptly finishing his 10th tournament of 2015.

If McIlroy was that hard on himself (after winning twice in three weeks as well), imagine how Danny Lee felt at Colonial C.C. for the Crowne Plaza Invitational. Colonial was the 22nd start in 2015 for the 2008 U.S. Amateur champion. Since January’s Sony Open, the only tournaments Lee has missed were the Puerto Rico Open, the Masters and the WGC-Match Play, the last two events where he wasn’t eligible.

Lee played six straight weeks in the fall, seven straight on the West Coast, four straight from Tampa to Houston and was on his third-straight week at Colonial (where he finished T-10) with no plans to take a week off unless he doesn’t qualify for the U.S. Open.

In March after a second-round 64 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Lee admitted his schedule had left him tired, which was why he took off Puerto Rico two weeks earlier, a tournament where he finished second in 2014. He spent the down time at TPC Las Colinas and The Honors Club, and with his family in Dallas. “It’s amazing what a refreshed mind can do in this game,” he said.

But the concept of a refreshed mind is relative. Even on Lee’s weeks off, instructor Drew Steckel and the rest of his team (which now includes sport psychologist Fran Pirozzolo) know Lee is going to be hitting balls, practicing his short game and working out. If that’s the case, he might as well be playing.

With his schedule, you’d think Lee would be running away with the PGA Tour’s Ironman honor, but not so. Thirteen of the 15 players with 19 or more events played in 2014-’15 were in the Colonial field, with 17 weeks remaining in the FedEx Cup season.

Among them was Chesson Hadley, the tour’s top rookie a year ago. Hadley played 29 events in 2014, three less than the leaders, Morgan Hoffmann and Brian Harman. Hadley is already at the 20-tournament mark this season, his mindset being “the more you play, the more opportunities you have to win a golf tournament.”

Hadley has fought burnout by traveling with his wife and 19-month-old son, the trio often renting houses rather than living out of hotel rooms. “I certainly couldn’t play as much as if they weren’t with me,” Hadley said. “Home is wherever they are.”

Daniel Berger, 22, is a bachelor playing his first year on tour, doing what Hadley did: scouting the best tournaments for his game. He has found a comfort level in playing three straight, noticing anything beyond that and “the little things start to tick you off.”

Berger, who lost a playoff to Padraig Harrington at the Honda Classic, manages the mental fatigue by simply not letting it get to him, and the physical breakdown with deep-tissue massages. By the time he’s 30, Berger hopes to be in all the WGC events and the majors. “At that point I’ll probably play the strongest 16-20 events and go over to Europe and Asia for some of their premier events,” he said.

In other words, the Rory McIlroy schedule.

Memories Of St. Andrews


Having experienced the Old Course as a player, spectator and journalist, our Scottish author has a unique appreciation for the Home of Golf

Think about this for a moment. In the long history of the game Scotland gave to the world, every great golfer, except one, has played the Old Course at St. Andrews. A partial roll call would include Allan Robertson, Tom Morris (Young and Old), Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Peter Thomson, Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Seve Ballesteros, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Pretty much any even near-great you could name has teed up on the 18th, aimed at the clock on the iconic R&A clubhouse and then walked across the Swilcan Bridge.

The exception was that legendary figure of single-mindedness, Ben Hogan, who won the Open Championship at nearby Carnoustie in 1953 but never took time to visit the Home of Golf. It was the ever-stoic Texan’s loss. Standing on the first tee, or striding up the final fairway is golf’s equivalent of a spiritual experience. Jones’ immortal words still say it best: “I could take out of my life everything except my experiences at St. Andrews, and I’d still have a rich, full life.” For any golfer not to form at least a brief relationship with the Auld Grey Toon is a grave omission indeed.

I first saw the place in 1970. At age 10, I stood on the steps to the clubhouse as the soon-to-be Open champion Nicklaus finished his final practice round. His autograph rests proudly in the wee green book I still have in my office at home.

Like most golfing Scots, my experiences at St. Andrews are indelible in my memory. I’ve hit into the Swilcan Burn. I’ve played from Hell Bunker. I’ve shanked off the tee at the par-3 eighth-and finished on the green. I’ve taken more than a few shots to escape from the Road Hole Bunker. I’ve played from the eponymous road. I’ve hit from Grannie Clark’s Wynd, the gravel path that runs across the 18th fairway. I’ve putted from the Valley of Sin. I’ve birdied the first and the last in the same round. So forgive the personal nature of what follows, graphic evidence of just how emotionally charged my affinity with the Old Course has been for nearly half a century.

I first saw the place in 1970. At age 10, I stood on the steps to the clubhouse as the soon-to-be Open champion Nicklaus finished his final practice round. His autograph rests proudly in the wee green book I still have in my office at home.

The lasting memory of that far-off week, however, is of standing behind the 18th as Doug Sanders lined-up a three-foot putt for victory. The colorful Georgian had struck his pitch thin almost to the back of the huge green, left his first putt in exactly the wrong place and duly missed the slightly downhill left-to-righter. The shocked hush that followed is with me still. As is the sight of Sanders’ playing partner Lee Trevino turning abruptly away.

I missed the 1978 Open at St. Andrews but watched on television from San Diego, where, as Scottish Boys champion, I was competing (albeit briefly) in the Junior World Championship. But three years later I was back to play in the British Amateur, drawn against a two-time former champion, American Dick Siderowf, in the first round.

An imposing and intimidating figure, Siderowf was a beautiful swinger of the club and a formidable opponent for the impecunious 20-year-old who stood before him on the first tee. As my best friend remarked to me after the match, “I’d rather watch him walk down the fairway than watch you hit a shot.”

Siderowf turned out to be silent as well as stylish. Not one word passed between us until we shook hands on the 16th green. “Thanks for the game, Dick,” I said. “Enjoy your flight.”

One day later, I was embroiled in something of an epic second-round match with a Tasmanian by the name of Paul Beard. One-up playing the last, I missed Doug Sanders’ putt to send the game into extra holes. I can still see the anguish on my caddie/grandfather’s face after I lipped out, but also his smile after I holed from 25 feet to win at the 21st. A nongolfer, “Big Joe” was a former prisoner of war (3 1/2 years on an island in the Pacific) not much given to spontaneous emotion. But it meant a lot to me to see the obvious pleasure he got from being involved in my golf.

Less than a month later, I was back at the Old Course as part of the six-man Scotland side at the European Amateur Team Championship. George Macgregor, the current captain of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club was one of my teammates. Even now, 34 years later, I can vividly recall the lack of feeling I had in my swing as I hit off the first tee. I’d made the mistake of peaking down at my sweater and seeing the word Scotland on my upper-left chest, causing my eyes to well with tears.

That week ended in disappointment, as we lost, 4-3, to an England side containing future Ryder Cup player Paul Way and now former U.S. Senior Open and Senior PGA champion, Roger Chapman. But my love affair with the Old Course was well established.

On July 22, 1984 I sat all day alongside my pal, John Grant (ironically now employed by the St. Andrews Links Trust and a member of the R&A’s rules committee) in the huge grandstand to the right of the first/18th fairway watching the Open Championship field tee off during the final round.

Famously, that day came down to the last two pairs. The penultimate was Ballesteros and Bernhard Langer. By the time they reached the final hole, the German had putted his way out of contention. But Seve, courtesy of an inspired approach to the treacherous Road Hole green, was tied with Tom Watson, who was playing behind alongside Ian Baker-Finch.

After Ballesteros hit his tee shot up the yawning 18th fairway, we glanced right to see Watson’s 2-iron approach to the 17th. From the ideal spot on the right side of the fairway, the already five-time Open champion hit what commentator Dave Marr would call “the wrong shot with the wrong club at the wrong time.” The ball finished against the wall across the road and a bogey ensued.

Meanwhile, Ballesteros had struck his final approach to about 12 feet from the pin. In went the putt for what was surely a clinching 3, as we stood as one in tribute. His celebration remains the most memorable in the history of the game. If you haven’t seen it, you’re not a golfer.

Five days later, I stood where the great man had walked, holed out to the same pin position for a par 4 and won an international student event called the Boyd Quaich. The stands were still in place, but no one stood up as my ball fell into the cup on the topside because no one was there. Still, the feelings were the same. Winning an event at St. Andrews-any event-is unforgettable.

Since those relatively youthful times, my interaction with the Old Course has been more professional than personal. I have worked there as a journalist at four Open Championships, a Ladies British Open, a Curtis Cup and who knows how many Dunhill Cups and Dunhill Links Championships. I even had the rare opportunity to sit in the Old Course Hotel with Woods (and Mark O’Meara) and interview the man who has surely played better golf than anyone ever has.

So, though it would be an exaggeration to say the depth of my feeling for the Old Course exactly mirrors that of Jones back in 1958 when he received the Freedom of St. Andrews, I know exactly where he was coming from.

What To Make Of Tiger?


Doomsayers claim he’s washed up. Our author suspects the epic obstinance that has helped the former World No. 1 get into this mess gives him a fighting chance to get out

To borrow from screenwriter William Goldman’s iconic comment about Hollywood, when it comes to Tiger Woods, nobody knows anything.

There are three reasons for this. First, it’s golf, which no one has ever figured out. Second, much if not all of the pertinent information is possessed by Tiger Woods, who doesn’t over-share. And, third, unless you count Bobby Jones retiring at 28, we have never seen a truly historic player fall so far, so fast, so early.

Whether Woods’ decline is permanent remains the question, although after he missed the cut by a mile at St. Andrews the issue for many seemed settled. But either way, the Tiger Saga remains fascinating and mysterious. For now, here’s what I see.


Although it might be more orthodox technically than it has ever been, Woods’ overall action no longer has the flow and rhythm of his youth and prime. It’s more compact, and the transition is more abrupt, with a hard thrust toward the hitting area. The microsecond at the top of the swing is no longer the moment of surety it used to be.

Even with injuries and age, Woods is still a physically impressive athlete, with speed, flexibility and grace. He isn’t consistently among the longest hitters, but when he lets the driver go, few players outdrive him (he ranked second in driving distance at the Quicken Loans National). It seems his determination to keep his length is what causes him to swing so hard and to retain the much-criticized dip in his swing with the driver-a move that many teachers say is the cause of his wildness off the tee, but which Woods stubbornly believes allows him to “use the ground” for power.

Woods still hits many superlative shots, especially with his irons. He can still putt. But increasingly mixed in are an alarming amount of shocking misses-wide blocks, diving snipes, short pop-ups, heavy chunks-that ruin rounds mentally and on the card. No tour player is good enough to win tournaments with such shots in the bag, or in the mind.

There is no doubt Tiger can produce shots of the very highest level when he’s right. But since 2010, he has stopped being able to do it when he really wants to or, more significantly, when he has to.


Although his work ethic and desire have come under question, outwardly, Woods seems as focused and competitive as ever. Also over the past five months of mostly poor play, he has shown a marked improvement in smiling and acknowledging the crowd.

All the injury and swing-theory jargon he has used to obfuscate answers about his poor play-“changed release points,” “deactivated glutes,” “a baseline shift,” et al-is, in its way, a show of mental strength. Observers might want self-effacement and vulnerability in their champions, especially their damaged ones. But to be a golf champion, publicly admitting weakness is counterproductive.

Woods resists doing so in the same way he competes: greedily and mercilessly, conceding nothing. In his version of events, he always grants himself every possible positive. Lately, he has been harkening back to winning five times and being PGA Tour player of the year in 2013, as well as saying he was in the hunt at Augusta in April (where he was 12 back after 36, 10 back after 54 and finished 13 back to tie for 17th) and at The Greenbrier, where he finished T-32. He has also been trading on his most prized possession and last resort-his record-by repeatedly reducing any of his current difficulties to “I’ve been there before,” as if he will naturally emerge to win majors in bunches again.

He spins and stretches for the purpose of brainwashing us as much as himself, and don’t expect him to stop.


It is this area that will determine whether Woods can make it back. As much as Woods says it’s about physical things (recovering from injury and owning swing changes), I believe that his real issues are mental.

There is no doubt he can produce shots of the highest level when he’s right. But since 2010, he has stopped being able to do it when he really wants to or, more significantly, when he has to. It’s the quality that most made him great, and why he currently isn’t.

The most obvious measure is his performance in majors. His third-round 68 at Augusta this year was the first time since the 2011 Masters that he broke 70 on the weekend in a major.

These days when the tension is high, Woods simply doesn’t play as well. His first-tee jitters are well-documented. He was under enormous pressure at St. Andrews-where he had won British Opens by eight and five shots and where he knew his performance would be seen as a referendum on his future-and he didn’t handle it, unnerved after two badly missed shots on the opening hole.

Last week in Virginia, where Woods was the tournament host, was a respite from the cauldron of scrutiny and expectation he faced at the Old Course. Still, he got off to a shaky start, three over par after four holes, and looking like another 80 was possible. But he got dialed in with his short irons, and brought it back to 68 at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club.

It set him up for a nice groove Friday, and he responded with an impressive 66, which put him within two of the lead, in genuine contention for the first time since 2013. But Saturday, he again didn’t handle it, shooting a 74 that included three shocking misses while getting lapped.

Woods began Sunday nine back and freewheeled to five under through 10 holes, bringing him within four of the lead with eight holes left. But he immediately missed a three-footer for par and hit his next drive into a water hazard. After his closing 68, which left him T-18, he casually noted that he “had total control of the golf ball, which was nice.”

Woods also denied he had been tense on Saturday. “No, I felt very comfortable out there,” he said. “I’ve been there so many times.”

Ultimately, as much as it flies in the face of results, Woods knows he can say what he wants because decline is harder to track in golf than in other sports. Whereas in most other sports losing a step announces that time is up, players lose a step every week in golf. Then invariably, at all ages, they get the step back, often at a major championship.

But when Woods says what he is going through is simply a repeat of a well-worn pattern (“I know what I’m doing out there”), he goes too far. Nothing from his pre-2010 career comes close to this year, which began with horrendous chip yips, included the highest rounds of his career and has landed him at 266th in the world. It strains credulity to think his path is simply the necessary way to improvement, getting worse to get better. Without anyone saying so, there’s an intuitive understanding that the problems are far more deep-seated. If Woods overcomes them, it will be monumental. And that-not whether he will figure out his swing-is why he’s such a magnet.

Is Tiger Woods done? He was widely pronounced so after St. Andrews. My instinct is still to wait. It might be a holdover of having witnessed so many incredible feats by Woods, but I have the strong sense that even into his 40s he will refuse, with all his disquieting will, to surrender. Which augurs for his somehow finding a way to a miraculous comeback.

The PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where Woods finished T-24 in 2004 and T-28 in 2010, figures to be his last event until December. Which could result in the thing Woods most needs: A long, thoughtful break.