Golf Buzz

April 7, 2015 - 10:10am
Posted by:
T.J. Auclair
tj.auclair's picture
Tiger Woods
USA Today Sports Images
Is it crazy to think that Tiger Woods could contend this week at the Masters? T.J. Auclair doesn't think so.

Finally. It's here -- the season's first major championship, the Masters.

It's been eight long months since the last major, when Rory McIlroy took the PGA Championship at Valhalla. Since then, anyone who loves golf has been dying for the Masters to get here.

Aside from the fact that it's, well, the Masters, there are so many other reasons to be excited for this week. Tiger Woods is back. Rory McIlroy has a chance to complete the career grand slam and win his third consecutive major. Bubba Watson could make it three wins in four years. It's Ben Crenshaw's final Masters. The list goes on.

RELATED: Masters field | 20-somethings to watch | First-timers | Full coverage

Since the majors are so special, it didn't seem fair to compile just a "5 players to watch" list this week. With that, here are 10 players to keep an eye on at Augusta National.

10. Tiger Woods
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Missed cut at Waste Management Phoenix Open
Reason to watch: Am I crazy? Maybe, but hear me out. Did you see any of the highlights of Tiger from his practice session at Augusta National on Monday? I've never seen him like that. He looked human instead of robotic. He was smiling, dancing (that was weird), embracing old friends, signing autographs, acknowledging fans' well wishes and just overall, seeming to have fun. The circus that comes with being Tiger Woods didn't look like a chore for once and -- from what we saw of his sketchy chipping that forced a self-imposed leave of absence -- it didn't look sketchy at all. OK, so it was just Monday, you say, and Tiger hasn't won the Masters since claiming his fourth green jacket in 2005. Fair enough. But when he does tee it up at Augusta National, no matter the state of his game going in, Tiger contends. Including the four victories, Tiger has racked up 13 top-8 finishes in the Masters since 1997. One of those was a T4 in an abbreviated 2011 season in which he made just nine starts. Since this major edition of "5 to watch" includes 10 players, I just can't count him out at Augusta National.

9. Jimmy Walker
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Sony Open in Hawaii and the Valero Texas Open
Reason to watch: Over the last two seasons, no player on the PGA Tour has been better than Walker. Since October of 2013 when the Tour's wraparound schedule began, Walker has collected five wins and a total of 15 top 10s. He heads to Augusta having won in his last start -- a home game -- in San Antonio. His confidence is high. In his first crack at the Masters a year ago, Walker tied for eighth. That's a solid finish for a Masters rookie. I think he improves on it this year.

8. Patrick Reed
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Hyundai Tournament of Champions
Reason to watch: A year ago after Reed won the WGC-Cadillac Championship at Doral, we all laughed at his "top-5 in the world" statement. Ironically enough, a win from Reed at Augusta National this week would make him, you guessed it, the No. 5-ranked player in the world. To succeed on the PGA Tour, one has to have that belief in self. Not everyone is as forthcoming with that belief as Reed, but boy can he play. He won two NCAA championships while playing for Augusta State, so it's safe to say there's no major he'd rather win more than the Masters in his college town. He missed the cut in his first Masters start in 2014. This year he improves on that significantly.

7. Dustin Johnson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the WGC-Cadillac Championship
Reason to watch: In five starts at Augusta National, Johnson's best finish is a T13 in 2013. It's the only major in which he's failed to record a top 10. Something has got to give there. Length is a huge advantage at Augusta National and their are few in the game as long as Johnson. Since returning from a controversial six-month leave of absence, Johnson has been on fire. In six starts since the beginning of February, he has four top-10 finishes, including a playoff-loss at the Northern Trust Open and the win at Doral. For a long time now, Johnson has been one of the most talented players on the PGA Tour. The only thing missing from his resume is a major. This might be the week that all changes.

6. Adam Scott
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T4 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship
Reason to watch: The 2013 Masters champ -- the first-ever Australian-born player to win a green jacket -- is flying under the radar this week at Augusta National. And that's just the way he likes it. With all eyes on the likes of Tiger, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson, Scott can just go about his work. You've got to go back to 2010 to find the last time Scott went a season without at least two top-10 finishes in majors. At this point in his career, it's all about the majors for Scott.

5. Henrik Stenson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Second at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Reason to watch: Here's another player flying under the radar at Augusta National. Stenson -- the No. 2-ranked player in the world -- is still in search of his first major championship win. The Masters is the lone major where Stenson has failed to record a top 10. He's poised to change that. Stenson has finished no worse than T4 in his last three starts and heads to the Masters well rested, having not teed it up since a runner-up finish at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

4. Jason Day
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Farmers Insurance Open
Reason to watch: Day has pretty much put it out there that there's no tournament he'd rather win than this one. He tied for second in the 2011 Masters and was third in 2013. Perhaps the only problem facing Day at Augusta National is harnessing his desire to win and not letting it get in the way of his play. Just go out and play -- don't overthink it. Day has proven on two occasions recently he's got all the tools required to win a green jacket. Is this the week he does it?

3. Jordan Spieth
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the Valspar Championship
Reason to watch: While Walker has been the hottest player on the Tour over the last 24+ months, no player has been hotter the last month than the 21-year-old Spieth. In nine starts this season, he has already amassed six top-10 finishes, including a win at the Valspar Championship, followed by back-to-back runner-up finishes -- all of those in his last three starts. In his first Masters start a year ago, Spieth nearly became the tournament's youngest winner. He had a share of the 54-hole lead, but settled for a tie for second -- a remarkable Masters debut. This year, he has his sights set on improving just one position. And with the way he's played lately, you'd have to think anything less than a Masters win would be disappointing.

2. Rory McIlroy
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
T9 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship
Reason to watch: McIlroy has the chance to complete the career grand slam this week at Augusta National. It would also be his third consecutive major victory and would have everyone ecstatic about the possibility of a "Rory Slam" come June at the U.S. Open. His play early on this season has left something to be desired for the world's No. 1 player. But I think there's a good reason for that. Since winning the PGA Championship last August, McIlroy has spent the last eight months obsessing about this week. He's fired up for this week.

1. Bubba Watson
Best finish in 2014-15 season:
Won the WGC-HSBC Champions
Reason to watch: For my money, Watson is deservedly the favorite this week at Augusta National. He's the defending champ and has won the tournament in two of the last three years. Because of that success, Watson's confidence has been sky high and it's shown in his results. Five starts this season have yielded four top-10 finishes, including a win, a runner-up and a third in his last start -- a month ago -- at Doral. He comes to the Masters this week well rested and knowing that, at this moment in time, there may be no player in the world whose game fits Augusta National more than his own. That's got to be a nice feeling.

Here's how my five to watch fared at last week's Shell Houston Open:

5. Matt Jones -- Missed cut
4. Phil Mickelson -- T17
3. Justin Rose -- T37
2. Sergio Garcia -- T37
1. Matt Kuchar -- 70    

 

 

Bubba Watson's pink Ping G30 driver
USA Today Sports Images/Ping Golf
Ping will donate $60 for each of the 5,000 pink G30 drivers it sells to aid the cause of children's health.
 
Over the past six months or so, the G30 driver from Ping has emerged as a true success story, as it has become golf's best-selling driver over that time period. Its popularity has been powered to some degree by two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson, whose pink G30 is easily one of the most easily identifiable clubs in all of golf.
 
And now, just in time for Watson's title defense at Augusta National, Ping has announced that it will make a limited edition of 5,000 all-pink G30s and donate $60 for each one of the $550 drivers to the Bubba Watson Foundation.
 
The bright pink G30 drivers are available for pre-order now through authorized Ping retailers around the world.
 
 
"Bubba has a huge heart and continues to use his success on the golf course to help people in need, especially children," said Ping Chairman and CEO John A. Solheim. "As we've seen on the golf course with his shot-making skills, he's a creative thinker and his decision to distinguish himself by using a pink driver and shaft helped make this program possible."
 
The limited-edition G30 drivers will have a bright pink shaft and clubhead featuring the same technology, including turbulators on the crown, that has earned the standard G30 high marks for its performance. The pink G30s will be available in 9- and 10.5-degree lofts (adjustable +- 1 degree) for right-handed players and 10.5 degrees (adjustable +- 1 degree) for left-handers. It is available in R and S flexes, and comes with a matching pink-accented head cover. 
 
 
Watson has used a pink driver since 2012, and Ping conducted a similar charitable effort with its pink G20 driver. Those funds were donated to the Phoenix Children's Hospital and used to help build the new Bubba Watson-Ping Golf Motion Analysis Lab – the first and only dedicated facility of its kind in Arizona. The MAL uses advanced assessment tools to evaluate and treat children and adolescents who have movement disorders or walking difficulties caused by conditions like cerebral palsy.
 
"Besides making great equipment that helps me have success on the golf course, Ping and the Solheim family are incredibly generous in giving back to the game through ideas like the limited-edition pink G30 driver program," Watson said. "I'm excited golfers have the opportunity to participate in this great cause knowing they are also contributing to help improve the lives of the less fortunate."
 
 
April 6, 2015 - 10:21am
mark.aumann's picture
Ripple
Nike
Nike's new golf film 'Ripple' captures the relationship between Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods.

Rory McIlroy recently admitted that he not only idolized Tiger Woods growing up, but he wrote a letter to his hero telling him he'd be his rival one day.

That day is now. And Nike's newest golf ad, "Ripple," explores that relationship in an emotionally satisfying way. Watch the whole thing and I promise you won't be disappointed:

 

 

 

The Rory-Tiger relationship continues this week at Augusta National Golf Club. Woods is returning from a long layoff after missing last year's Masters. McIlroy, now the No. 1 player in the world, only needs a green jacket to complete his career Grand Slam.

 

 

April 6, 2015 - 9:25am
Michael.Benzie's picture
Golf for juniors
Chance Rinkol from Leawood, KS, reacts after chip his ball into the hole during the 7-9 Boys Division at the Drive, Chip & Putt National Finals at Augusta National Golf Club. Mandatory Credit: Rob Schumacher-USA TODAY Sports

Golf is unique treat that can be enjoyed at any age. Teach a child to play and they’ll have a foundation in place for decades of enjoyment on the course alongside friends and family. This is something we saw last weekend with the second Drive, Chip and Putt Championship held at Augusta National. It was a great reminder of the enjoyment both adults and the youth themselves receive from the game.

PGA Professional Justin Blazer, the director of instruction at Duran Golf Club in Viera, Fla., wants his students to have fun learning and cultivates their interest by drawing inspiration from other athletic pursuits.

MORE: Winners of the 2015 Drive, Chip and Putt Championship | Photos | Register for 2016

“Golf has the perception that it’s hard,” Blazer said. “But it’s no different than any other sport. Sometimes we put golf on a pedestal. Hard work, proper practice and good coaching, all elements necessary to being a good athlete in any sport, are the same elements necessary in golf.”

Here are nine tips to keep golf fun and exciting for junior golfers.

1. Find a PGA Professional, give your child room to grow. Research your area and locate an instructor who specializes in junior golf programs, is certified, or at the least has significant experience teaching kids. Then, offer support and encouragement but allow the pro to give the golf advice. Too much information from too many sources can strip the joy from the process of learning how to play golf.

2. Group instruction works best. Blazer played college basketball, so he comes from a team sport background. He reflects on growing up playing little league baseball, when he looked forward to practicing for a couple of hours because it meant a chance to hang out with his buddies. With the time available between shots, golf is the most social game. Instruction should follow this lead. Kids who learn, laugh, improve and struggle together are more likely to return for more.

3. Younger kids need variety. You’re never too young to learn, but the smallest swingers need a mixture of activities to keep clinics and lessons fresh and exciting. For Paul Johnson, head pro at the Links at Lost Plantation in Rincon, Ga., this might include an impromptu game of freeze tag in the midst of a driving range session, an obstacle course session or whacking tennis balls instead of golf balls to build confidence and break monotony. Any activity that emphasizes hand-eye coordination, balance or athletic movement benefits a golfer’s early development. Even if it doesn’t include touching a golf club or ball.

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4. Don’t sweat the details. Solid fundamentals are important, but it’s fine for a beginner to have flaws in their grip or stance as long as they are hitting the ball, having fun and wanting to return to the course. Blazer believes his students’ pleasure is more important than applying undue stress in pursuit of perfection. If the time comes, he likes to turn his pupil into the teacher, have them ask questions about why such a change might be necessary. That keeps the students invested in the decision.

5. Get on course - as soon as possible. Juniors who spend too much time banging balls on the driving range can easily lose interest. Besides, the golf course is where the game really comes alive, remains fun and fresh, poses a unique set of circumstances each day. A golfer understands the reason to spend quality time practicing chipping or bunker play once they’re faced with those challenges on the golf course.

6. Let your child decide, it’s their journey. Not all junior golfers will want to play in tournaments. Some might like to compete, but only in a group setting. And others may enjoy the game just because they can be outside and spend hours sharing good shots and laughter with friends. Parents who push their child down the wrong path may drive their child away from the game. The decision to pursue a tournament title, college scholarship or professional career should always come from the golfer and no one else.

7. Slumps are part of sports. Every golfer reaches a point where scores aren’t improving because putts don’t drop or drives miss their target. Understand that all athletes have stretches where they simply don’t perform their best, sometimes for reasons that defy explanation - if they can be identified at all. Baseball hitters, field goal kickers, 3-point shooters all deal with low periods during a season, Blazer points out. Dwelling on what’s gone wrong can bring any golfer down. To maintain perspective, set reachable intermediate goals and keep the focus on the process of having fun.

8. Parents, don’t rush to spend. It’s tempting to rush out and buy expensive golf clubs and flashy clothes as soon as your son or daughter mentions they’d like to spend an afternoon on the golf course. Hold on to your debit card for a minute, however. Expose your child to the game first. Many instructors have clubs available for kids to use during lessons or clinics. If your child decides they like the game and want to continue playing, then find equipment that fits them. Proper club length and weight are imperative for young beginners. Clubs that are too long or heavy can introduce bad swing habits.

9. Enjoy this game together. Father and son, mother and daughter. Walk nine holes on a warm summer evening. Start a holiday tradition of sharing a round, and observe it whether there’s rain, sleet or wind. Watch the major championships, learn the rich history of the game and discuss your favorite players. Attend a PGA or LPGA Tour event and observe those who play the game best. Find time to play a round on a family vacation. Celebrate the good shots, forget the bad ones, laugh a lot and let each memory soak in.