by Jeff Skinner
Spending a week in Hawaii is good for the soul. Anyone that spends time there will say something along the lines of it being “the trip of a lifetime” or “it was life changing.” Well this week in Hawaii may just be life changing not only for Michelle Wie but for the LPGA Tour.
Wie may finally have found the formula for success with her new found “game plan” strategy combined with her forsaking the technical aspects of her swing and a concentration on how it feels, not how it looks. Combine those with her unique but effective “tabletop” putting stance and Wie may be on the way to all those wins she was expected to have earned by now.
It is easy to become a prisoner of the moment with Michelle’s LPGA Lotte Championship win but let’s for a moment consider the possibilities if Wie does start to be a force on the LPGA Tour.
There are few players that move the needle in professional golf. Tiger Woods is the biggest draw in golf and the supreme mover of any needle. Phil Mickelson is next but falls well short of Tiger’s effect and next in line is the 24 year old Wie.
We hear analyst after analyst say that the tournament, majors or not are more interesting with Tiger in the field and the same is true of Michelle Wie. Much like Tiger, but to a lesser extent she isn’t only a golfer but a personality that transcends the sport of golf. Wie is recognized by those outside the world of golf and can bring more fans to the game.
The LPGA is getting younger, especially the Americans. Wie seems to have been around for years but is only 24. The winner of the year’s first major, The Kraft Nabisco, Lexi Thompson is only 19. Jessica Korda has a win this year and she’s only 21. Paula Creamer is the oldest of the American winners this season and is the ripe old age of 27.
Let’s not count any chickens here but if Wie and Thompson, a long hitting, wunderkind with three LPGA victories already, can continue to rack up wins the LPGA is in for a significant boost.
Mike Whan, the LPGA Commissioner has to be thrilled with the win by Wie and the season his young American golfers are having. Americans have won half of the eight LPGA events season and that can only boost the LPGA’s television ratings.
Successful campaigns by Wie and Thompson would translate into better ratings for the LPGA which could mean more tournaments and more dollars for the LPGA. And an actual rivalry between two young Americans would be huge. Mike Whan may have his fingers crossed that this is just the beginning.
by Jeff Skinner
Miguel Angel Jimenez made his Champions Tour debut this week and he did it the way he lives his life, with style. The newest member of the Champions Tour certainly did it with style yesterday as he beat the big boys of the tour with a bogey free, five under, 67 at the Greater Gwinnett Championship.
Champions Tour stalwarts, Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples couldn’t mount a charge at The Coolest Guy in Golf as he led from wire to wire. His final round was a tidy display of fairways and greens. Playing with Langer and Couples, Miguel’s approaches were seemingly always insides his partners and his putter was working just fine.
Langer and Couples may be glad to see Miguel head back to the European Tour as he bested them in consecutive weeks at The Masters and The Gwinnett. He was already named an assistant captain by Captain Paul McGinley but Jimenez is intent on earning a place as a player on the team and won’t be content with just being an assistant captain.
He plans on spending the rest of the season playing in tournaments that award Ryder Cup points. The Champions Tour events do not.
Jimenez was happy with his two weeks in Georgia, a fourth place finish at The Masters and a win on the senior circuit but he is focused on playing at Gleneagles.
“It shows my game is in very good shape now,” Jimenez said. “A very nice day, I played very solid, very well. It’s great to play in first Champions event and win.”
“I still go my goal for the end of the year,” Jimenez said. “I would love to be part of the Ryder Cup.
“People want me all over the place. I don’t know what’s going to happen for me. It’s not about money … (it would) make me feel proud myself if I play in the Ryder Cup once more.”
by Jeff Skinner
Matt Kuchar is known as one of the nice guys on the PGA Tour. He is polite, kind, thoughtful and the worst you hear out of his mouth is a “gosh darn” or a “golly gee” when he happens to miss a shot. He is also known as a top ten machine as he racks up top finish after top finish.
Recently he was on the brink of getting the reputation of not being able to close the door on a victory. But that all changed today as he slammed the door on the competition with a wild chip in for birdie on eighteen for the win at the RBC Heritage.
Kuchar was cruising along until the seventeenth hole with seven birdies on his card when he uncharacteristically three putted…from four feet. From birdie to bogey in a flash and it looked like Kuch had let Luke Donald, the final round leader, back in the tournament. But Kuchar’s brilliant sand shot regained his lead and ended a string of near misses for the ’12 Players champion.
His past three outings had seen him contend for the win but stumble on Sunday. The most memorable may have been the loss to Matt Jones at The Shell Houston Open when Kuch was done in by Jones’ chip in on the first playoff hole. The following week at The Masters Kuchar also had a chance but couldn’t find a fairway at Augusta on Sunday.
Now, with a win this season Kuchar’s season can be seen in a new light. Much was made of his failure to close out a win but he chose to look at the positives. His ability to be near the top meant he was playing well and playing well puts you in a position to win.
His stellar 64 today overtook Donald and put him in that position today, a place he is getting very comfortable with.
by Jeff Skinner
Michelle Wie has played the Ko-Olina golf course hundreds of time. It’s her home course and she is their adopted daughter. But yesterday’s round was definitely the most significant round she ever played on her favorite course. In fact, it may be the most important round of her life.
Wie shot an essentially perfect 67 in the final round of the LPGA Lotte Championship to earn her third LPGA title and continue her resurgence in 2014. Winning at home and in front of a very large and very supportive local crowd Wie was almost speechless afterwards. “I’m so happy, I can’t think straight,” Wie said “It’s a dream come true.”
The hometown girl overtook final round leader Angela Stanford who had a four shot lead to start the round. But Stanford struggled and finished behind the charging Wie. Wie had all her shots and used her experience at Ko-Olina to fashion a near perfect round hitting 15 of 18 greens and 28 putts. One of those putts was a missed two footer at 17 and an inconsequential short putt at the last when the win was already in the books.
Wie has been in the spotlight so long it is easy to forget that she is only 24 years old. On the national stage at 13 the amazingly gifted Wie started a run of unimaginable play with six top five finishes in LPGA majors by the time she was 16. Her career upside was limitless but missteps like concentrating on playing with the PGA Tour instead of winning own her own levels sidetracked her progress.
Injuries also hurt Wie and many even criticized her for attending college full time instead of concentrating on her golf career. When she did graduate from Stanford and was playing full time she promptly went out and fell flat missing 10 cuts in 23 starts. That was then and this is now.
Now is a new and improved Michelle Wie. We see a Wie that has developed her own putting style, certainly unique among all tours. We see a Wie that has formed her own view on swing coaches and teaching styles, she refuses to look at her swing on video now relying on “how it feels.” That’s a true departure from the David Leadbetter school of thought but a successful one. We see a Wie that develops her on course game plan and sticks with it. We see a Wie that leaves her driver in the bag and opts for a Tiger-Like Stinger 3-wood that bisects fairway after fairway. We see a Wie that has throttled back her long game with the driver (47th in driving distance) and rather hit more greens. It has worked as she leads the tour in Greens in Regulation at 81%.
More importantly we see a newly relaxed and confident Michelle Wie on the course in 2014. Two weeks ago at the Kraft Nabisco LPGA Championship Wie and winner Lexi Thompson went head to head in a showcase of the future for the LPGA. While Wie fell short she displayed grace and humility towards her competitor and friend.
All of us have witnessed a young girl who, for whatever reason, was put in the spotlight, thrust into untenable situations for an adult, no less a teenager and subjected to pressure and expectations that would have crushed many a soul. And maybe it did. Maybe Michelle’s insistence in attending college was her release, her escape from the world of pressure and expectations. It afforded her the chance to be a college kid and not a phenom.
Call it maturity, call it confidence, call it a young woman that is now comfortable with herself and willing to say no to outside pressures and do things her own way.
At the end of 2013 she took a five week vacation from the game and didn’t swing a club. What emerged from that hiatus was a newly refreshed and “reborn” player if you will: a player that is happy to be on the course again and happy to be playing a game again and not a job.
Michelle Wie has already lived a lifetime in the spotlight and the first few chapters had been fraught with plenty of pain and heartache. But these next chapters she is about to write look to be filled with joy, happiness and victories. She’s off to a great start and this win at home could just be the start of many great things to come.
by Jeff Skinner
Our buzz from our Masters hangover continues today as we head into another weekend of fine golf being played around the world. There is early morning coverage of the European Tour’s Mayback Malaysian Open on The Golf Channel. That is followed by the Champions Tour’s Greater Gwinnett Championship where The Coolest Guy in Golf, Miguel Angel Jimenez makes his Champions Tour debut.
Any chance to see Miguel strut his stuff, stretching and stogie included, is a treat for all of us. After that it’s the RBC Heritage from classic Harbour Town Golf Links with Masters contenders Matt Kuchar and Jordan Spieth trying to rid themselves of their own Masters hangovers.
And to top off a very full day of golf coverage the LPGA is spending the week in Hawaii for the LPGA Lotte Championship. The Ko Olina Golf Club on Oahu is Michelle Wie’s home course and she is in contention this week. Ko Olina holds a special place for me as it was the first course in Hawaii I was able to play. My brothers and I were lucky enough to play it a few years back and we even had a “Michelle Sighting” while we were there. Great choice Bro.
Even with all that golf and a quick eighteen myself today, I am struggling with this heavy duty Masters Hangover. Especially when I read articles like these two. ESPN’s Bob Harig gives us the skinny on the behind the scenes action at Augusta National and all the new improvements they made this year and some inside info on the workings of the club.
Unlike many too-hyped places in a jaded world, Augusta National has this way of impressing time and again. Yes, the club has struggled with progressive issues over the years and it might be a bit too stuffy and elitist for the tastes of some.
But in putting on a golf tournament, in opening its doors to the outside world and welcoming thousands upon thousands onto the grounds each day of tournament week, the place never ceases to amaze.
Augusta National is one of the richest clubs in the world and they don’t sit on their cash. Sarah Max details many of the clubs recent actions for improvements to the club which includes buying almost anything that borders The National and even loaning the town of Augusta $20 million to widen Berckmans Road which borders the club.
Ah, traffic. Those who followed Augusta National’s assembly of land marveled at the trouble and cost for a parking lot. In late 2013, it became clear that there’s more to it. Now the club is eager to improve the traffic flow in and out of the area. Late last year, Augusta National said it would give the city of Augusta an interest-free loan to expedite the widening and realignment of Berckmans Road, which runs north and south, along the club’s original property line. Augusta National will prefund the $20 million project, which will ultimately be paid for by a 1 percent regional sales tax, says Steven Cassell, a traffic engineer for the city of Augusta. Under the new plan, which is scheduled to be completed by the 2016 Masters, the intersection of Berckmans and Washington will be moved about a third of a mile west. It will also improve the grade of Berckmans Road near Augusta National, which could allow for pedestrian underpasses between parking and the club.
Augusta National is an amazing place with visionary leadership focused on improving the club, the Masters and the game of golf. It’s no wonder my Masters hangover lasts longer each year.
by Jeff Skinner
The fascination with The Masters and Augusta National grows deeper each year. Watching that tournament each spring feeds the imagination of any golfer worth their Titleists. Doesn’t it get better each year?
Some will say that Bubba Watson’s victory was anti-climatic and indeed he wasn’t really challenged on the closing nine. But there were aspects of this Masters that still made it a memorable one. And while The Masters cherishes its traditions like no other tournament there is plenty of change going on at Augusta National.
This year the most visible and significant change took place on the Sunday before the Masters when Augusta National hosted the inaugural Drive, Chip and Putt Championships. The 88 boys and girls and their families were afforded the opportunity to spend the day on the most hallowed of golf grounds as they competed in their respective categories. It was one of the most exciting days in Augusta’s history.
The man mainly responsible for hosting the competition was Augusta National’s Chairman Billy Payne. Well, he’s probably responsible for just about everything that goes on at the club. And from an outsider’s point of view, Augusta National couldn’t be in better hands.
To look at Billy Payne you could easily be mistaken by stereotyping him as one of those old, rich, white guys that inhabit Augusta National and figures the old ways are the best ways. And you would be right, almost.
Certainly Mr. Payne fits the traditional stereotype of an Augusta National member. He is white and he is wealthy having made a fair dollar in real estate. But old? He’s 66 and age is relative. Stuck in the past? Old ways the best way? Not a chance, not this chairman, not Billy Payne.
Billy Payne is a Georgia boy through and through. He was born in Athens, Ga. Graduated from the University of Georgia made his money in Georgia and was the man responsible for bringing the 1996 Olympic Games to Atlanta. He is a mover and a shaker and a very powerful man outside of Augusta National. Inside Augusta National is the man.
Since Payne took over from Hootie Johnson in 2006 things have changed at Augusta. Johnson will be remembered for his stonewalling of Martha Burke and her movement to get women admitted to Augusta National. Johnson’s not so diplomatic response to Burke was that Augusta will admit women when they want ”but that timetable will be ours and not at the point of a bayonet.”
Although Payne wears the same green jacket as Johnson, his is cut from a different cloth. Payne is a progressive in a green jacket. He has instituted so many radical changes at Augusta that he can be considered a revolutionary. Billy Payne, Augusta National’s Designated Revolutionary and he gets things done.
Since he has taken command The Masters has expanded its television coverage and signed its ESPN early round deal. He instituted the Junior Patrons Program where a child, 8-16 gets into The Master for free with any badge holder. He did the unthinkable when he licensed the use of Augusta National in the Tiger Woods video game. Of course their profits from the game goes towards their youth golf program. It isn’t about making money at Augusta, they have enough from CBS thankfully.
Payne has embraced the new media and the Masters home page and website are cutting edge and improve each year. He was critical in starting the Asia-Pacific Amateur and the Latin American Amateur. And Payne broke down the membership walls when Augusta National added two women members in Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore.
Payne’s biggest passion is the familiar cry of “growing the game” and he put his money where his mouth was when he opened up Augusta as the host of the Drive, Chip and Putt. He called that Sunday, “one of the most powerful days in my life.” That from a man that rules the most exclusive and powerful membership in the land.
Payne has a passion for growing this game and he has one of the most powerful seats at the table.
At each Masters Augusta National looks the same: decked out with all the azaleas, flowers and perfectly manicured layout. But that club isn’t the same club it was a few years ago. There are changes going on, significant, progressive changes. And Billy Payne is responsible.
For decades nothing changed except the champion’s dinner menu. But Billy Payne has started a revolution of change at Augusta National. He’s Billy Payne, Chairman Augusta National, a green jacketed revolutionary.
by Jeff Skinner
A couple of weeks ago Golf Digest broke the news that Paulina Gretsky would appear on their cover for their fitness issue. And then the controversy started as plenty of people in and out of the golf industry voiced their opinions on whether Gretsky should have been chosen over an LPGA player. Well, here’s a video covering the photo shoot. Let the controversy begin again. In the mean time watch The Great One’s hot daughter stretch it out.
by Jeff Skinner
Bubba Watson is a different kind of golfer and a different kind of person. And being true to his Bubba persona he eschewed the normal trappings that go with winning The Masters. He and his crew decided to hit the Waffle House after all the traditional celebrations at Augusta National were over on Sunday night.
Today was no different. After a few nights at home in Orlando the two time Masters winner decided to surprise the crew at The Morning Drive. Few professionals embrace the Morning Drive team like Bubba does. Bubba popped up on the set in full Masters attire, green jacket and tie. He spent some time with his friends and of course even teared up a bit. Take a look.