Earl's Recent Past Golf Blog's
February 4, 2019
Rickie Fowler Fails to Impress in Winning the Waste Management Phoenix Open
The final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open shaped up to be an interesting and exciting day. The last group featured Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, and Justin Thomas. Rickie had a four shot lead over Matt and five over Justin. Realistically the winner was going to come from that group, so all the drama and intrigue would be right there for us to see. Rickie has problems closing tournaments, so he had something to prove. Matt has been a perennial poor finisher. But this season has been different; could he continue his new found confidence and put pressure on Rickie? Justin was a stud in 2017. Get him close to the lead and he steamrolled the opposition. Could he recapture that form and make Rickie fold again?
The first three days for Rickie Fowler was like a walk in the park. Solid ball striking and phenomenal putting made his rounds look easy. But early on the last day cracks started to appear. He had to make a 30 foot putt for par on 3, made a mess of 5 for a double bogie, and then drove it in fairway bunkers on 6, 8 and 9. However, Matt and Justin were not up to the task either. All shot two over par 37's on the front nine. So the lead was the same. Then a nice birdie on 10 by Rickie and all looked good and comfortable. His lead increased to six and five over Kuchar and Thomas. Then the bizarre 11th hole, another poor drive and a smart layup to 30 yards from the pin. His pitch shot was hit well, but must have hit a hard spot on the green. What looked like a ball that would go 10 to 12 feet by the pin, suddenly rolled just off the green down a slope and into the water. After dropping and placing the ball back in play, the ball moved and rolled back into the hazard while Rickie was on the green surveying this shot. Another penalty shot. (It is the players' responsibility to place the ball back in play, if the ball will not stay in that area, the rules official will determine a spot, no nearer the hole, that the ball dropped and be at rest.) Rickie thought the ball was secure, unfortunately, it wasn't and he incurred another penalty. He then pitched onto the green and holed a 17 foot putt for triple bogie. His big lead was gone and now he was only one ahead of Brandon Grace playing in the group ahead. Another bad shot on the 12th resulting in another bogie and Grace's birdie at 13 and suddenly he was one behind.
Now he could continue to fade into the background, or stand up and take charge. There comes a time when you can't choke anymore. I think he reached that point. He wasn't special down the stretch, but he did hit two exceptional shots that won the tournament. Still one shot behind, he hit the fairway on 15 and needing a near perfect shot, he was able to handle the pressure and hit the green to setup a two putt birdie. This drew him even with Brandon. He got away with an errant 8 iron on 16, but salvaged par. The winning stroke was a clutch tee shot on 17 that found the green and after lagging to 8 feet, made the clinching putt for birdie to give him a two shot lead with one to play. Eighteen was ragged, but enough to secure the victory.
Rickie won and he should be proud of his composure in the face of adversity. Did this quiet his critics? No. He again let a lead disappear. He beat Brandon Grace down the stretch. Good, but Brandon isn't someone that brings fear to your heart when going head to head. He shot a three over 74 in the final round, which is the highest winning last round score ever in the Phoenix Open. He was lucky that he didn't have a proven closer breathing down his neck on the last few holes.
If Tiger Woods had won in this manner, I wouldn't be giving him grief. Reason, he did what he needed to win in the circumstances that presented themselves. Also, he has shown, more times than we can count, that he can handle the pressure and be counted on to deliver when challenged. Rickie has proven otherwise. Rickie won, but he tried to let it get away. I wasn't impressed.
I'm a big Rickie Fowler fan. Love the person and what he brings to the game and the enthusiasm that he generates with the fans. I keep hoping his game can match his hype. Glad he won, but this win didn't convince me that greatness is around the corner.
January 21, 2019
Surprise Winner of the Desert Classic
I admit that I do not know Adam Long, the winner of the Desert Classic, but I do know his story. For most of Sunday, he was just someone that was playing with Phil Michelson and Adam Hadwin. He was someone that was having a career week and was in line for a big paycheck. What could you expect from someone who only made one cut on the PGA Tour and finished 67th. This was a person who hadn't won one tournament on the Web.com Tour, Canadian Mackenzie Tour, or the Latinoamerica Tour, since he turned pro in 2010! But three birdies, that included two chip-ins, put him tied with his more experienced competitors as they teed off on the last hole.
Golf is one of those sports that rewards hard work and tenacity. Adam has always been a good player, but not the best throughout his life. He had a respectable junior record that rewarded him a scholarship to Duke University. Duke is a good golf school and he played with and against accomplished golfers throughout is collegiate career. Adam had some nice finishes and accomplishments, but not a trophy. He did have enough positive results to make him think he could succeed playing professional golf. Not being one of the elite players when he turned pro nine years ago, he had to work his way up through the ranks. That means playing in small mini-tour events like the Hooters Tour or eTour events, where you are basically playing for your entry fee. Good experience, but not a lot of money to be made. He was able to move up to the Latinoamerica and Canadian Mackenzie Tours and then to the Web.com Tour. Although he never won, he made progress each year. Then in 2018, he finished 13th in the season long Web.com Tour points system and secured his PGA Tour card for 2019.
We look at Adam Long winning in the Palm Springs desert as an overnight miracle or fluke, but to Adam it was a journey that started as a teenager. He battled long odds to become a PGA winner. Most would've given up, but he kept at it. He was asked, "What made you keep trying?" His answer was that he just loved golf and it was what he always wanted to do and he was going to see it through to the end.
The PGA Tour is filled with talented athletes. Is their talent something they were just born with? Did they have a special gene or inclination of this particular sport? What you will find is that they had inner motivation and desire to excel at their sport. That linked with the opportunity to devote a great deal of time to their passion along with proper guidance and teaching. Time to dedicate to your sport or endeavor is essential. Research has found that a minimum of ten years is required to reach world-class status in any complex task. Another benchmark is the ten-thousand-hour rule. But just practicing for a long time doesn't guarantee success, what is required is ten-thousand- hours of PURPOSEFUL practice. That means the right technique, coach and environment. What you will find on the PGA Tour is similar stories of long hours devoted to their sport, of caring parents encouraging their child's passion, and of mentors that helped guide their prodigies in the right direction.
I said I knew Adam Long's story, because I have seen it many times before. One aspect of golf, that I love, is that it rewards the hard worker, the person that doesn't give up. Superior skills don't always win at golf. Adam Long kept plugging and doing the right things. His hard work materialized on the 72nd hole with a masterful 6 iron to twelve feet. With a lifetime of training for just this situation, he stayed in the moment and made a life changing putt. He said later that he just "knew" that he was making that putt. That didn't just happen on the 18th green on the Stadium Course in La Quinta on Sunday, but many years ago the foundation was being implanted as part of purposeful practice.
We live in an instant gratification society. Golf rarely works that way. Get proper instruction and dedicate some purposeful time to mastering your skill. You will succeed. Adam Long is another example of this!