Golf Buzz

Kevin Harvick
Chris Trotman/PGA of America
NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick poses for a photo with a fan Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show.

It doesn't seem like turning laps at Daytona and Talladega at close to 200 mph would have much in common with a leisurely round of golf. But based on the number of people in the NASCAR garage area who play golf on a routine basis, that contradiction is more commonplace than expected.

Count 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick among the golf devotees, although with the birth of his son Keelan, he hasn't had the time to get in 18 holes as often as he'd like.

Harvick started playing golf in earnest eight years ago and became a member at Greensboro's Sedgefield Country Club in 2009, where he also hosts an annual pro-am charity tournament. He also frequents Kiawah Island during his all-too-short offseasons.

"I just started playing golf on a regular basis, just as a relief valve," Harvick said Tuesday at the PGA Merchandise Show. "For me, it's the exact opposite of what I do on the weekends. I needed to get my mind off of racing 24-7 and figured I'd learn to try to be at least somewhat acceptable on the golf course.

"I'm not sure I've accomplished that yet, but I love to play golf. My son has cut into my golf time, more than anything. But hopefully I can back into a routine. They have some great junior programs and he loves hitting the golf ball. That'll give he and I an excuse to go to the golf course and Mom not get mad."

Photos: Day 1 from the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show

Why golf? For Harvick, it's an escape from the hustle-and-bustle of a normal Sprint Cup race weekend.

"For me, the four hours of going out on the course and having that quiet peace of mind that you normally wouldn't give yourself," Harvick said. "But you still have that same competition with yourself to try to get better as you play each round. But the more I play, the worse I get."

Harvick said he probably only played 10-12 rounds last year, due to circumstances that were somewhat out of his control. One, he switched jobs. Two, he and wife DeLana moved. And three, racing for -- and then winning -- the Sprint Cup championship required more of his time than usual.

But his clubs are on the hauler every week, and if he gets the time, he definitely tries to get a round in. Usually, that's somewhere like Pocono -- and with other guys on his team.

"I like to play when we're up there, because when they're in season, they're unique and the mountain courses are fun to play," Harvick said. "When it's warm enough to play and it's not hectic in the garage, there'll be a group of guys who will go out and play pretty much every week."

Harvick said he's never had time to post a handicap, but he normally shoots "in the low-to-mid 90s" and putting is usually the best part of his game. He's the not the only NASCAR champion to list golf as a passion -- Dale Jarrett played on his high school team and was offered a scholarship to South Carolina. And there are a number of single-digit handicappers in the garage area.

But Harvick said there was a time when he really concentrated on the game.

"For me, before my son was born, there was an addiction of trying to get continuously get better," Harvick said. "For me, the hard part is getting the time to be as good as you want to be at it."

More: Bubba Watson kicks off PGA Merchandise Show

So what's the real story behind the 2009 video in which Harvick falls for the tried-and-true "exploding golf ball" routine from then-teammate Clint Bowyer, which wound up on YouTube?

"We were in Sonoma and usually play out there every year, because there's a lot of downtime," Harvick said. "We had a small wager of something like $100 a hole and I think I had beaten him 11 out of the first 12 holes. And for some reason, there was a diversion created to take my attention away from what we were doing."

Watch it for yourself here:


golf balls
Many of golf's top ballmakers are focused on creating softer balls that feel better on impact and react more precisely.
Titleist kicked off the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show bright and early Wednesday by formally introducing the 2015 editions of its Pro V1 and Pro V1x. The new models of Titleist's flagship ball – which is marking its 15th anniversary this year – are softer than ever, and "soft" is a common characteristic among the new golf balls on display here in Orlando.
The new Pro V1 and Pro V1x are designed "for total performance from tee to green," said Titleist Vice President Mary Lou Bohn, and are "the best-performing golf balls for all golfers." They offer "softer feel, and spin a little bit more," she added.
The soft feel of these 2015 editions comes from a reformulated thermoset urethane elastomer cover that helps to deliver more short-game spin and control, which Titleist says helps gives golfers the confidence to hit the ball closer to the hole.
On its cover, the new ProV1 has a spherically-tiled 352 tetrahedral dimple design. Inside the three-piece ball is a very soft-compression ZG process core and an ionomeric casing layer. The new formulation also creates a penetrating trajectory and more durability than previous models.  
The four-piece ProV1x also features a ZG process dual core – which helps generate much of the distance the ball is famous for – along with an ionomeric casing layer, softer thermoset urethane elastomer cover and spherically-tiled 328 tetrahedral dimple design. These characteristics create a higher launch and less spin than the ProV1 to help achieve that extra distance.
CALLAWAY: "Soft" is so important to Callaway that the company even put the word in the name of its newest ball. The company is so high on the Chrome Soft ball that it says it will "completely redefine golf ball performance" because golfers no longer have to sacrifice distance to gain more feel and vice-versa.
The Chrome Soft is built around a new proprietary SoftFast Core. This core creates a very low compression without sacrificing ball speed, Callaway says, which helps retain energy off the driver to maximize distance, while still allowing golfers to compress the ball enough on shorter shots to enhance its feel and gain control on shots into the green.
Surrounding this core is a mantle layer that helps to retain the energy stored in the core, which aids faster ball speed. And covering that middle layer is a DuraSpin cover that Callaway says is its softest and most durable cover to date. The cover also helps to optimize lift and reduce drag to increase distance.
WILSON: Wilson Golf calls the new editions of its Wilson Staff Duo ball nothing less than the world's softest golf ball, and says its new Duo Spin is the world's softest multilayer ball.
The Duo achieves an extremely low 29 compression via a larger, rubber-rich core for extremely soft feel and increased velocity off the tee and with long irons. Its feel, Wilson says, also improves its playability around the greens, while its two-piece construction delivers minimal spin off the driver face to aid in accuracy and its seamless 302 dimple pattern produces a consistent ball flight. 
The Duo Spin ball has similar distance and feel characteristics to the Duo, but has a slightly higher 35 compression rate. It was created for golfers seeking more workability around the green, but also want soft feel and low spin off the driver. 
The Duo Spin's three-piece construction adds an inner mantle made from a soft DuPont HPF material that increases spin on mid- and short-iron shots and provides increased resilience for ball velocity and distance. The ionomer cover on both balls helps to generate high-lift characteristics on tee shots and long approaches from the fairway. 
BRIDGESTONE: One of the prominent new ball lines promoting distance over soft feel comes from Bridgestone, which is out with a newly redesigned E-Series family dedicated to help golfers overcome what the company calls their "ballflight challenges" while also adding significant distance.
This is possible, Bridgestone says, because of its new WEB Dimple Technology, which is implemented in every model of the 2015 e-Series line. 
The new dimple design deploys a cutting-edge "spidering" pattern that affords 10 percent more dimple-surface-coverage than the previous e-Series models. This new pentagonal pattern combines with the aerodynamics of Bridgestone's Dual Dimple design to reduce drag for a more penetrating ball flight and greater distance. 
"We're very pleased with distance increases we've seen from WEB Dimple Technology during testing. In both robot and live testing, we have seen substantial distance increases versus previous models," said Director of Marketing Corey Consuegra. "The distance increases are consistent and significant."
The e-Series family consists of three models. The two-piece e5 is features urethane construction for golfers seeking a higher ball flight, more distance and greater control. 
The multilayer – and extremely soft – e6 is designed to help players eliminate slices and hooks. And the multilayer e7 is best for players wanting to produce longer, more penetrating shots and reduce "ballooning" in windy conditions.
All these new balls are either available now or will be in stores within the next few weeks.
January 21, 2015 - 12:35pm
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Phil Mickelson
USA Today Sports Images
This week marks the first time we see Phil Mickelson on the PGA Tour since the BMW Championship.

The PGA Tour is in the California desert this week for the Humana Challenge at PGA West, where Patrick Reed -- a winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions two weeks ago -- returns as the defending champion.

It will also be the first time since the Ryder Cup that we see Phil Mickelson.

RELATED: Humana Challenge tee times | 10 to watch in 2015 | 5 storylines of 2015

Here's a look at five players you'll want to watch in La Quinta when the tournament tees off on Thursday morning.

5. Phil Mickelson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
First start
Reason to watch: I'm just really interested to see what Mickelson is going to bring to the table this week after what was a mostly disappointing 2013-14 season. Last time Mickelson played in the Humana Challenge was in 2013 and he tied for 37th, but he has won the event twice in the past. Hard to believe, but Lefty still hasn't won on the PGA Tour since his triumph in the 2013 Open Championship. According to reports, Mickelson focused a lot on his conditioning in his time away from the Tour and -- hopefully for fans -- will be ready to get back on track in 2015.

4. Pat Perez
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T17 at the Sony Open in Hawaii
Reason to watch: Perez, winner of the 2009 Humana Challenge, enters this week after a solid T17 last week in Hawaii, which included a final-round 65. It was his first top-20 finish since last April in the RBC Heritage. Perez has been active on social media, stressing how much work he's been putting into his game over the last couple of months. Sunday in Hawaii showed that it's paying dividends. Now, with a chance to play at a place where he claimed his lone PGA Tour title, Perez is also riding high on confidence.

3. Bill Haas
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T22 at the McGladrey Classic
Reason to watch: The Humana Challenge was the first of Haas's five career PGA Tour victories when he walked away with the trophy in 2010. He enters this week coming off his first winless season on Tour since 2009 -- though he did still qualify for the Tour Championship. Haas finished second at the Humana in 2011, losing in a playoff, and tied for sixth a year ago. It's a place where he's very comfortable and he should be refreshed having not played in a Tour event since the beginning of November.

2. Matt Kuchar
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T3 at the Sony Open in Hawaii
Reason to watch: I should just include Kuchar on this list every time he tees it up. I thought I did, but apparently I overlooked him last week in Hawaii and he went ahead and tied for third. Oh well. I'm back on the Kuchar train this week. The seven-time PGA Tour winner pretty much always plays well when he tees it up in the Humana Challenge, most notably his tie for second in 2010. He finished in the top 10 on 11 occasions last season and picked up his first top 10 of the new season (in four starts) last week.

1. Keegan Bradley
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T64 at the World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: Bradley, when he gets out to play, always strikes me as an aggressive animal who just broke out of his cage. He's intense. So, imagine how fired up he must be this week, playing on Tour for the first time since early November. And, his New England Patriots are headed to the Super Bowl a week from Sunday. And, in two previous Humana Challenge starts, Bradley has finished no worse than T18 (T18 in 2014; T7 in 2011). He's excited to get going again and for that reason, I'm excited to see him back out there.

Here's how my five to watch fared at the Sony Open in Hawaii:

5. Harris English -- T3
4. Chris Kirk -- T26
3. Russell Henley -- T17
2. Charles Howell III -- T26
1. Jimmy Walker -- Won 

January 21, 2015 - 9:07am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson likes to have fun off the golf course and on Tuesday night, that was on full display.

There are countless examples of two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson having fun off the golf course.

On Tuesday evening in Orlando, he provided yet another.

Watson, playing mini-golf, called his putt, made it and then broke out into a shirtless celebration.

Check it out here:


That's not the first time Watson has made a ridiculous putt in mini-golf. Remember this from last May

Bubba Watson
Bubba Watson likes to work on his driver, and all his other clubs, by using a single club for an entire practice round.
Bubba Watson, as we all know by now, has never had a golf lesson. That, however, doesn't mean the two-time Masters champion doesn't work on his game.
Ever since he was a kid, Watson has honed his skills by playing entire rounds using only one club. The reason, he explained Tuesday during a shotmaking clinic at Demo Day at Orange County National Golf Center near Orlando, is so he can learn to master every kind of shot with every kind of club.
"I did it just recently with a new 4-wood," he said. "I wanted to learn how to score with that club."
Hitting wedges off tees or drivers out of bunkers forces him to be creative, Watson said, adding that he tries to hit cuts and draws, both soft and hard, with each of his clubs.
"I don't care what it looks like," he said, of both his odd shots during his one-club rounds and his golf game in general. "I just want to score."
He was able to pull off that now-famous wedge recovery shot from the pine straw that led to his first Masters victory in 2012 in part because he was so familiar with hitting his wedge in unusual situations.
Even he can't get enough distance out of a wedge to score well in a one-club round, he admitted – he scores the best when he uses a 6-iron or 7-iron. And, maybe just to make us mere mortals feel bad, he noted that he can reach the green on a 450-yard par-4 hole by hitting hit two 6-irons.
His best one-club score ever came not with a 6- or 7-iron, though. He once posted a 1-under 71 back when he was in junior college. The club he used that day – his driver.
Curtis Thompson
Montana Pritchard/PGA of America
Curtis Thompson launched a drive 316 yards Tuesday during an exhibition at the Cobra Golf range.

Curtis Thompson may always be Nick and Lexi Thompson's brother, but he might not be "Nick and Lexi's brother" in conversation much longer.

Curtis Thompson understands that after her impressive victory last April in the Kraft Nabisco Championship -- becoming the second-youngest woman to win a major -- his 19-year-old sister Lexi might have a bit more of the spotlight than a guy who announced three months later he was leaving LSU to pursue a professional career.

"I'm used to it, for now," Curtis Thompson said of having a famous pair of siblings. "That's just the way it's been for a while."

RELATED: What's it like to attend Demo Day? | Demo Day photo gallery

But based on the way he handled himself on the Cobra Puma Golf range Tuesday at the PGA Show Outdoor Demo Day at Orange County National Golf Center, it might not be that long before the roles are reversed. Curtis Thompson teed up five balls in a driving exhibition against his long-hitting sister, and wound up winning with a longest drive of 316 yards. Lexi's longest was 285.

Attendees then had the opportunity to see if they could exceed either drive, with the first one to do so winning a new Cobra Fly-Z driver.

It was Curtis' first time at a public Cobra Puma event, but he signed autographs and posed for photos with fans like he had been doing it all his life. The Coral Springs, Fla., native hopes to make it a habit.

And as far as outdriving his sister? 

"Well, I do have an advantage," Curtis Thompson said. 

With that kind of power -- and winning genetics -- it might not be long before Curtis Thompson can place a trophy or two on the family mantle as somebody more than "Nick and Lexi's brother."