Golf Buzz

Billy Hamilton and Bubba Watson
Billy Hamilton via Twitter
Cincinnati Reds speedster and Bubba Watson met at Reds spring training - in the laundry room, apparently! - where Hamilton gave Watson an autographed bat.
As the brand-new owner of the Pensacola Blue Wahoos, Bubba Watson is spending sometime this week at Spring Training. Specifically, he's been down in Goodyear, Arizona, where the Cincinnati Reds —the parent club of his AA team – are getting ready for the 2015 Major League Baseball season.
Like many Reds fans, Watson had his eye out for outfielder Billy Hamilton. But Bubba wasn't just scouting the Cincinnati speed merchant – he challenged him to a race around the bases. With just one little tweak.
"I said, 'I start at second base and he starts at home,' and in the clubhouse, he said he could still beat me," Watson explained to "I said, 'There's no chance.' But they're not letting him run right now. They want him to stay healthy, I guess."
As a consolation, Watson got a bat autographed by Hamilton – a former Blue Wahoo, by the way. Hamilton inscribed it to "the fastest man I know," and Watson carried it with him as he toured the Reds' complex.
So how would the great race have turned out? Well, we've never clocked Bubba on the run, but we do know that Hamilton collected 56 steals for the Reds last season and racked up an all-time record of 155 steals during the 2012 season, in which he played in both the majors and minors.
According to Hamilton has been clocked at 13.76 seconds for an inside-the-park homer during his minor league days. Could Bubba chug from second to home that fast? We don't know, but we kinda like's suggestion – that maybe he could take his hovercraft.
Here's an interview with Watson at camp:
February 25, 2015 - 11:43am
mark.aumann's picture
Rory McIlroy
USA Today Images
Rory McIlroy lost in a playoff to Russell Henley in last year's Honda Classic.

After a successful finish to the West Coast swing, the PGA Tour heads east for its annual four-week Florida spring fling, beginning this weekend at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., host of the Honda Classic.

HONDA CLASSIC: Tee times | Rory McIlroy heads field

The Champion Course, a par-70, 7,140-yard test, was originally designed by George and Tom Fazio in time to host the 1983 Ryder Cup. The course also hosted the 1987 PGA Championship. Then in 1990, Jack Nicklaus put his distinctive design touches on the facility, adding the now famous three-hole "Bear Trap" section, beginning with No. 15.

There are a few changes for 2015: some greens have been expanded and No. 14 could now be considered a "bear snare," as a revamped green brings water into play. If the winter tradewinds start to blow, expect scores to climb. 

If past performance is any indication, don't expect a runaway winner at PGA National. Only once since the Honda Classic moved there in 2007 has the margin of victory been more than two strokes -- and three times the tournament has gone to a sudden-death playoff, including a four-man showdown last year.

With that, here are five players to watch this week.

5. Phil Mickelson
2014 Honda Classic:
Missed cut
Reason to watch: After missing much of the western swing to spend time with his children, Lefty tees it up at PGA National this weekend. Maybe the break will have done him good, since he missed the cut at both Phoenix and San Diego -- places where he's had tremendous success in the past.

Since coming so close to winning the PGA Championship last summer, Mickelson's game hasn't been up to par. Perhaps this is the week Lefty breaks out of his slump. He certainly seemed encouraged by the announcement Tuesday by the Ryder Cup Task Force of changes to the makeup and long-term strategy for Team USA.

4. Jason Dufner
2014 Honda Classic:
Did not play
Reason to watch: Since the calendar switched over to 2015, Dufner hasn't made a cut. But that's not necessarily an indication of how much better Jason feels -- and how much better he's swinging. Losing 20 pounds certainly couldn't hurt.

You have to believe most of his early-season issues are rust and repetition -- Dufner pretty much shut down after his neck injury forced him to withdraw from the PGA Championship last summer. PGA National should give us a real good read on where Duf is right now, and what to expect from him heading into the Masters.

3. Russell Henley
2014 Honda Classic:
Won playoff
Reason to watch: Some guys just need to know what it's like to win, and that's when things take off. Perhaps that's the best way to describe Henley, before and after his 2014 Honda Classic victory.

After a final-round 72, which required a par save just to get into the playoff, Henley appeared least likely of those standing on the No. 18 tee to be holding the trophy at the end of the day. But he reached the green in two with a tremendous approach shot, and his tap-in birdie was good enough for victory.

CLASSIC TALE: Winning 2014 Honda Classic was huge for Henley

Since then, Henley added three more top-10 finishes, wound up 12th in the season-ending Tour Championship -- and picked up right where he left off this season. He's made the cut in all six starts, including a tie for fourth at the McGladrey and tie for third at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. 

2. Dustin Johnson
2014 Honda Classic:
Did not play
Reason to watch: Fourth at Pebble Beach, lost the playoff at Riviera last weekend to James Hahn. Can he keep the momentum going on the other side of the continent? 

HOT START: Dustin Johnson poised for breakout season

One moment, he'll pull off a shot like he did at Riviera's No. 10 in the playoff that will make you leap for joy. The next, he'll do something that'll make you tear your hair out. If he ever finds that consistency -- watch out. Plus, he'll have the benefit of "home cooking" this weekend, since he lives in nearby Jupiter.

1. Rory McIlroy
2014 Honda Classic:
Tied for second (lost playoff)
Reason to watch: It's hard to believe at this time last year, we were still not certain McIlroy had figured out the equipment change issues that seemed to plague him all of 2013. Remember, he went out and shot a blistering 63 in Thursday's first round -- and looked like a runaway winner. But he stumbled to a final-round 74, came almost completely unraveled before a remarkable birdie on the final hole just to make the playoff, and then lost when Henley birdied the extra hole.

What a difference one year makes. After wins in the Open Championship and PGA Championship, McIlroy moved back into the world's No. 1 ranking. And he looked every bit the part at the Dubai Desert Classic three weeks ago.

February 25, 2015 - 10:41am
mark.aumann's picture
Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus admits one of his greatest weaknesses is his fondness for ice cream. So perhaps its not a surprise he's teamed up with Schwan Food Company to start his own line of premium ice cream.

According to a news release posted Wednesday on Jack's web site, the new Jack Nicklaus pints -- in seven different flavors -- will be available, beginning in March. Stores expected to sell the Golden Bear's frozen treats include Winn Dixie, Bi-Lo and Kroger stores, with a suggested retail price of $1.99.

JACK'S THOUGHTS ON TIGER: "He'll figure this out"

"It’s no secret that I love ice cream," Nicklaus was quoted as saying. "Needless to say, I have never had so much fun in the research and development of a product. The team at Schwan has a world-class product development center. Together, we have created a variety of flavors -- all with real ingredients -- for a quality, premium ice cream at a value price."

In case you're wondering, the flavors include Warm Spiced Butter Pecan, Chocolate Peanut Butter Swirl, Salted Caramel Toffee, Strawberry Lemonade, Triple Chocolate, Coffee and Donuts, and Homemade Vanilla. Notice there's no chips.

The collaboration between Jack, his wife Barbara and Schwan is more than just about dessert. The bottom line is philanthropy.

HONORS AND ACCOLADES: Nicklaus to receive Congressional Gold Medal

According to the release, "Schwan has become a supporter of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation. The Foundation’s goal is to provide families access to world-class pediatric healthcare. Beyond the ice cream pilot program in 2015, the Nicklauses hope to tie in other children’s charities to sales of the product."

Among the Nicklaus-branded or licensed products introduced in recent years that benefit children’s charities are water, wine, lemonade, sunglasses and golf balls.

Dru Love and Davis Love III
Dru Love, who won the 2012 PNC Father-Son Challenge with dad Davis Love III, now has an NCAA Division I title to his credit as well.
Davis Love III is dominating the golf headlines today after being named captain of the U.S. team for the 2016 Ryder Cup. In his own household, however, he's happily sharing the spotlight with his oldest son, Dru.
A few hours before Love took the stage at PGA National, Dru – whose real name is Davis Love IV – nailed down his first individual victory as a member of the Alabama golf team. A redshirt sophomore, he drained a 15-foot putt on the final hole of the Puerto Rico Classic to share medalist honors with Scott Vincent of Virginia Tech at 7-under 209 in the 54-hole tournament.
The individual victory (Georgia captured the team title) marked the high point of Love's college career, which has been marked by a string of injuries – first to his right ankle, then later to his right wrist – that have kept him from playing a bigger role as the Crimson Tide won the last two NCAA Championships in a row. 
"Every time I got hurt I felt like I was getting better, close to where I wanted to be," Dru told Ryan Lavner at the Golf Channel. "It's pretty good motivation, sitting in the rehab facility with all of our trainers and watching my phone, seeing our guys shoot 5 under and win tournaments by 20 while squeezing a ball hundreds of times."
Dru – who won the 2012 PNC Father/Son Challenge with his dad – played his way onto the travel team last fall, and carded a couple of top-10 finishes, which amounted to a "coming-out party," Alabama Coach Jay Seawell told the Golf Channel. His victory today came in his fourth start for the Tide.
As you might expect, Love had some sage advice for his son. Before he teed off, Love texted him a simple message:
"You’re ready. Just go get 'em. Take dead aim."
That, Lavner explained, is the advice that famed PGA instructor Harvey Penick gave Dru's grandfather, Davis Love Jr., and which has now been passed down to Dru.
James Hahn and Stephen Curry
USA Today Sports Images
James Hahn got some inspiration from another high-profile Bay Area athlete en route to his victory in Los Angeles on Sunday.
One of the weekend's great sport stories was James Hahn's surprise victory at the Northern Trust Open, where he outdueled Dustin Johnson and Paul Casey in sudden death for his first PGA Tour victory.
On Monday, Hahn took to Twitter to reveal that he was inspired by all-star guard Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors. Hahn, we should point out, is a longtime Bay Area resident and former player at the University of California in Berkeley. 
Before his final round on Sunday, Hahn said, he wrote the words "Be Great" on the inside of his golf glove, which you can see down below. The inspirational message, he explained, was an idea he'd gotten from Curry – an avid golfer who we have written about a couple of times recently.
Hahn, whose rags to riches story – punctuated by his now-famous "Gangmam-style" dancewe detailed earlier today, began the final round in the hunt but surely not one of the favorites. Nevertheless, he spent part of Saturday night trying to get himself into a winning state of mind, then went out and shot his second straight 69 to finish regulation tied with Johnson and Casey.
Along with penning some inspiration on his glove, Hahn said, he "just told myself, 'I will putt great tomorrow. I will putt great tomorrow.' And I just kept saying it," he explained. "I was watching 'The Matrix' yesterday and in between commercials I just kind of closed my eyes and I was like, I'm going to putt great tomorrow, I will putt great tomorrow."
Sure enough, he got off to a great start on the greens, and rode that to his first PGA Tour title. 
" I was like, wow, this stuff really works," he said with a laugh.