Not exactly the Wild West
As a measure of how the landscape has shifted from the start of the New Year to the close of the West Coast Swing, consider only this: the iconic Sunday image on tour has gone from a red shirt to clown orange pants.
That’s right. Red shirt on Sunday, out. Clown orange pants on Sunday, in.
In fact, I may or may not be wearing clown orange pants as I write this. The truth is between Rickie Fowler and me.
With that cornea-searing sight burning a hole in our mind’s eye – clown orange pants is a gutsy play – we take stock of a West Coast Swing that is now finished.
Quite frankly, it underwhelmed, with only flashes of good stuff.
If Fowler hadn’t damn near won at Torrey Pines, then damn near won the Waste Management Phoenix Open (easily the most conversation-starting sponsor in tour history), and if David Duval didn’t decide to poke his head out of the gopher hole, Punxsutawney Phil-style at Pebble, we’d be looking at a West Coast Swing in which the only people who knew what happened are the families of Ben Crane, Ryan Palmer and Bill Haas, as each clan made its New Year’s 2011 plans for Kapalua.
Did I just mention Punxsutawney Phil? He might have had a better West Coast Swing than the other Phil; the one called Mickelson.
Lefty took stock of a Tiger-free landscape, surveyed his home state’s events, played at courses where he’s won before (Torrey, Riviera, Pebble) … and promptly took the collar. Phil’s 0-fer included just one top-10, and the ignominy of a Sunday 73 at Torrey, the morning after he flew Butch Harmon in for a special lesson.
A Sunday 73, AND a carbon footprint? No good.
And now a roll call of the West Coast ‘Swingies’, awards given to other highlights and lowlights from the Swing. (All winners given tailored orange slacks in lieu of statuettes):
Rush Limbaugh/Chad Ochocinco/Keith Olbermann/Inflammatory Statement Of The Swing Award/: To Scott McCarron, for dropping the “cheating” bomb on Phil Mickelson and his pre-1990 square grooves, in an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle. McCarron is a smart cat. He knew exactly what he was doing, and spurred a pretty good conversation between purists and non-purists. At the least, McCarron drew our eyeballs away from TMZ for a few minutes, giving us a much-needed breather from the Tiger Mistress Count.
McCarron eventually apologized to Mickelson, but not before a wounded Lefty told CBS he’d been “publicly slandered” and said the situation would have to be handled by someone else. It was an intimidating and vague statement. Did he mean Tim Finchem’s lawyers? Or some hoodlums from the set of “The Wire?” We’ll never know. Phil stopped playing the pre-1990 wedges.
The I’m The New Tiger, Only Without The Porn Star On The Side Weepily Accusing Me Of Ruining Her Film Career’ Award: To Steve Stricker, who I’m sure is delighted a reputable web site like Yahoo! Sports is linking his name to a weeping porn star.
Point is, dude is the new Tiger. Stricker took his hot finish from ’09 and turned up the sizzle in ’10.
He went t-10 at Kapalua, 3rd at Honolulu, then took the checkered flag at Riviera. Setting aside his second-round exit from Match Play (losing an 18-hole match, 1-down, to Ross McGowan is just too small a sample size to blur Stricker’s achievements), he’s the best player in the world right now. And the most unthreatening, too. We’ve tried several nicknames on Stricker – “The Cheesehead Assassin”, “The Paper Boy”, “Steve Bleeping Stricker” – but he’s at the point where he doesn’t need a nickname. Just a tee time and room in his trunk for a giant cardboard check. Watch out, Augusta.
The ‘Sunshine Boys’ Award: To Tom Watson and Fred Couples, who gave us the best duel of the entire West Coast Swing – and it wasn’t even on the West Coast Swing. You know a West Coast Swing is lacking when the best moment doesn’t come from the West Coast Swing.
In Hawaii, in Couples’ Champions Tour debut, Watson shot 64 to Couples’ 65 at Hualalai on Sunday, Watson going birdie-birdie to finish it out. Plus, he was wearing pinstriped trousers. Plus, both guys are old enough to know the theme to ‘Hawaii Five-Oh,’ which should have been playing in the background during Sunday’s final round, so hip and happening was this showdown. Boys, let’s do it again at the U.S. Senior Open.
Mulligans Of The Swing Award:: To Bubba Watson, Tim Clark, Michael Sim and Rickie Fowler – each of whom chose to lay up on a reachable par-5 on the back nine of the final round at the Bob Hope, Torrey Pines and Phoenix, in that order.
In an amazing and eerie coincidence, each player failed to win an event that was in each man’s grasp.
Listen, I stink at golf. But I am enthusiastic, and an appreciator of the game’s intricacies. My Grandpa Murphy gave me a few pieces of bedrock advice when I was a lad as to the heart and soul of the game: “Keep your head down, and follow through.” Check. “Drive for show, putt for dough.” Check. And, “Never up, never in.” Check.
(My Grandpa gave me more advice after playing with me, but I don’t think “Kid, this game ain’t for you,” applies here.)
See, it’s that last one – “Never up, never in” – that comes to mind with Fowler, Watson and Sim. I know Gramps was talking about putting, but the same principle applies: Sports often rewards aggression, as I was just saying the other day to my good friend, Chip Beck.
Watson was first, at the 14th at PGA West. The big bomber could have easily reached in two, but he laid up instead and made par. Clark was next, on the 90th hole, with a chance to win, but he laid up and made par. Sim had a chance at Torrey on the 72nd hole, but he laid up and made par.
Then, on Sunday in Phoenix, on the 15th hole, Fowler had an eminently reachable par-5, but he laid up instead and fought to make par.
Never up, never in, lads. Never up, never in.
Broadcast Moments Of The Swing, Or The I’ll Try Not To Rip Nick Faldo Too Hard’ Award: The first “Sir” on American soil since Sir Mix-a-lot, Nick Faldo could win my Broadcast Moment of the Week every week, whether it’s the “I’m Too Sexy for Kapalua” unbuttoned shirt move, or the “Have You Seen My Hollywood Facial Scruff?” move at Pebble. Faldo’s a beaut. The world would be a more boring place without him, for sure. I will credit his analysis of Tiger, offered in CBS’ debut at Torrey Pines, pointing out that Tiger’s return to the golf course will face a daunting challenge – how Tiger handles the loss of his aura.
I liked how The Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee came strong on Sunday, calling Fowler’s lay-up “without question the most shocking play I’ve seen in 2010.” And I liked David Feherty’s reporting on Paul Goydos’ quadruple-bogey 9 on Sunday at Pebble, noting that Goydos told him he’d made 9 at the Bob Hope too. “Says he’s going to start calling himself ‘Gretzky’,” Feherty told us in a nice bit of on-the-spot field work.
Someone to keep an eye on is Jim Nantz, who spent all those years respecting his elders in paying homage to Ken Venturi, his partner. Now, with Faldo on the scene, a peer, Nantz is starting to feel his oats a little, tossing the needle Faldo’s way on occasion. For a buttoned-down, silkily smooth pro like Nantz, it’s a fun development. I’d like to think he’s taking encouragement from this column, a strict “No Sir” zone.
The Slam-Dunk Broadcast Moment Of The Swing Award, Except It Didn’t Take Place On The West Coast:: Tiger Woods’ 13 minutes of fame, shame and (self) blame.
MVPS Of The West Coast Swing:: Lefty, you had your chance. Sorry, buddy. Our top 3 players as follows:
1. Steve Stricker: Looks like your next-door neighbor; will assassinate you like a member of the Russian Mob.
2. Dustin Johnson:A tie-3rd at “The Riv,” then quietly held off David Duval with a 72nd hole birdie and got to meet Clint Eastwood with crystal, again. I’ve got a feeling about this guy.
3. Rickie Fowler: Missed three of six cuts, yes, but when the “on” switch is flipped, is the most fun player to watch on tour. Plays faster than a National League game in the 1960s. Plus, the clown orange pants. Somewhere, Emmett Kelly is smiling.
It’s always a little sad when the boys fly east to Florida. The golf courses in the Sunshine State just don’t measure up to the Pebble-Riviera-Torrey level. I know the “East Coast Media” used to think the tour didn’t start until Greg Norman showed up at Doral, but I’ve got news for those old-timers: Lindbergh flew the Atlantic, Nixon’s out of office and the Beatles broke up. It’s a new day. So, while I’ll watch with enthusiasm, I will pour out the last of my 40-ounce wheatgrass shake as the tour leaves the Pacific time zone.
Here’s to poa annua greens!