Pardon the delay in posting about the main storylines and happenings from Wednesday at Waialae CC. I had a nice chat with Adam Scott, Kevin Na, Jimmy Walker, Tony Finau, among others this afternoon. I had to do some other stuff late this afternoon, so I didn’t get a chance to write my behind-the-scenes column for Wednesday yet. I am heading back to Seattle first thing tomorrow morning, so the plane will be a perfect place for me to write. What did we do when all planes didn’t have WiFi??? It really wasn’t even that long ago! So, I apologize for the delay, but stay tuned for some fun tidbits from Wednesday.
[*UPDATED–SEE FULL POST BELOW]
Thanks for your patience and continued support of WUP!
This day has been filled with tons of super serious first world problems — even more than usual! My original plan was to have this post written and published not long after play got underway this morning, but things outside my control have prevented this from happening. My first flight was super delayed and now I can’t access WordPress via the airline’s WiFi because it’s restricted for whatever reason. When did a blogging platform become an issue that would create a disruption during a flight? Well, anyway, I’m finally writing, which is at least a start. Sincere apologies for the delay. I wish I would have known, so I could have planned more appropriately. I’ll stop complaining/whining and start writing/reporting.
NA NA NA
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend you read Alan Shipnuck’s excellent, in-depth profile for Sports Illustrated on Kevin Na. Per usual, Shipnuck does a stellar job capturing the essence of Na. And for most of you who just know him as the guy you make fun of for playing slow (which he really isn’t anymore), you should A) be ashamed of yourself and B) change your mind and find him likable. Because he actually is one of the good guys out here.
I understand why he had an awful reputation for being a slow player, but he’s actively worked on his issues and come out better. He has improved his pace of play tremendously. I’m sure he still has his moments, but how many tour players would openly and candidly admit and discuss their shortcomings and then put in the effort to play at an appropriate, quicker pace? Na is the only one that I can think of. Most guys are much too selfish to even consider changing their pre-shot routine or going through such a process that could hurt their earning power for any period of time.
Credit Na for acknowledging his problems and dealing with them under the public spotlight. Many people can’t endure this as private citizens, let alone in front of the golfing world.
I caught up with Na on Wednesday after he finished playing in the pro-am and chatted with him about the article. He said he was happy with it and praised Shipnuck for his incredible writing skills. He seemed a little unsure about it, though — like perhaps he felt like he shouldn’t have shared as much as he did. We know that Tiger Woods likely won’t be cracking any racy jokes with Na in the near future!
Not that it matters or not that he’d care, but I tried to reassure him that it was a good article and he had nothing to worry about.
“Hopefully people look at (the story) as a good thing,” said Na. “You can’t have everyone like you, I guess.”
Yep, he’s right. It’s hard to swallow and it sounds like it’s something that he battles with because even if we don’t really care, there’s at least a small part of us that wants to be liked by our peers. We all want to be popular, to some degree. But once you reach adulthood, you realize that not everyone’s going to like you and it’s not always fair nor do they even always have a rational reason. It’s just life. To quote one of the golfing world’s deepest philosophers, “it is what it is.”
However, I think there will be many more Kevin Na fans after people give Shipnuck’s profile a good, long read.
Na shared with me that he’s recently formed a friendship with former professional baseball pitcher Chan Ho Park. He appreciated a piece of wisdom that Park relayed to him while they were out not long ago.
”We were at dinner and people were wanting (Park) to sign autographs,” recalled Na. ”So, we were talking about the difference between haters and fans. (Park) said, ’I realize that I wanted to go out there to pitch for my fans, be successful and prove to people that they were wrong — try to pitch well and be successful to prove all these people wrong, but I was better off trying to pitch for the people who love me.'”
In other words, haters gonna hate!
Last season Adam Scott was eliminated after he missed the cut at The Barclays, the first of four legs in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. With the recent advent of the wraparound season, players who don’t play in the fall for various reason are learning that they are starting behind the eight ball. (Usually, in Scott’s case, he has to play in the big Australian events in November and December, so he used to begin his season at Riviera.) The circumstances surrounding Scott’s situation were extraordinary, as his wife gave birth to their first child, a baby girl, in February. Thus, he didn’t make his first start in 2015 until Doral, which had been loosely planned.
“I started a lot later and didn’t get off to a great start and was always playing catch up and it kind of got the better of me by the end of the year, especially when you have very high expectations and you just don’t quite make them,” said Scott on Wednesday.
“It caught up eventually because I ended up having to chase to get into tournaments for the FedEx Cup. Even adding Greensboro at the last minute in case I didn’t get my 15 (minimum starts required as a PGA Tour member each season) if I didn’t get through the playoffs. I put myself in a bit of an awkward position, but it was fairly exceptional circumstances that led to it happening — not just me being completely an airhead at the start of the year.”
In the new season, Scott played in two events in the fall, finishing second at the CIMB Classic and then placed 70th at the WGC-HSBC Champions. He also played in the Hero World Challenge, which isn’t an official event, but it was held in the Bahamas, where Scott resides. He added the Sony Open to his schedule, where he’s played in the past in the years after he’s qualified for Kapalua. His next tournament likely won’t be until Riviera in a month, as he would like to use the time to prepare for the season more seriously.
”Starting to play a little better at the back end of last year made me want to come and play pretty early here and this is a course I like, as well, and an event that I like, so I wanted to keep on building the momentum in the right direction,” said Scott. ”This was a tournament I wanted to add and then see where things are at from here, but go on building the confidence before (the Masters).”
After briefly taking over the world no. 1 ranking for a couple of months in 2014, Scott struggled by his standards in 2015 and dropped outside of the top 10 in the rankings to no. 11 at the moment. Like all the top players, the 35-year-old Australian’s focus in the upcoming months is all about preparing for Augusta National.
”That’s the focus at the moment,” he said. ”I didn’t play my best golf throughout last year and the standard at the top is very high and to achieve winning majors and being the best player in the world, I have to climb my way back up there.”
It’s no secret that putting is the weakest link in Scott’s game. He ranked 158th in strokes gained putting in the 2014-15 season, where he was 55th in the previous year.
”Well, look, this is the way I summed up last year, I putted so poorly and the stats show that,” said Scott. ”It’s hard to compete when you putt as poorly as my stats showed, eventually that has to start having an affect on other parts of your game. It puts pressure on your iron shots to hit a green, puts pressure on your chipping when you miss a green.
“Changing to the short putter back at the Presidents Cup kind of freed me up and had me putting better at the back end of last year and let the rest of the game relax, so it’s falling back into a place where I feel that i can really contend at the top again this year.”
With regard to his caddie situation as I touched on in my Tuesday post, Scott will use both David Clarke and Steve Williams. He said he thinks it’s worked out so that Clarke will work 14 events and Williams the other nine, including the majors.
”Maybe not as much as he might lead on,” said Scott, laughing, when asked if he had to beg Williams to come out of retirement. ”I think we both got to a good place even though this wasn’t something I considered a year and a half ago when we stopped working together for a while.
”I think the balance of having both guys and also their personalities is a good fit for me out here. It’s going to keep things fresh for me and I think it’ll be good for me because I’m turning into a bit of a crusty old pro.”
Scott’s thoughts on Jordan Spieth:
Nothing is that surprising now with Jordan. He’s probably done more to improve his status in the game and he continues to run at a pace that everyone is struggling to keep up with. I’m not surprised. He played quite late in the year. I played with him down in Australia quite late in the year and then he played the Bahamas, so he had a four-week break. When you’re playing with his kind of confidence, that probably feels like a day since he last made his 30 birdies, so confidence is high and I love the fact that Jordan is really embracing this time in his golfing career because you just never know when it stops or if that will continue for the next 20 years or five years or whatever and he’s really taking advantage of it and it’s really amazing to see.
Scott on whether Spieth has developed a bit of the “Tiger effect”:
I read something that he said last week that he’s learned to play with the lead. That’s an amazing thing if he’s got that because he’s put himself in that position a lot now and he looks tough to beat. It looks like when he hits a bad shot, the short game’s there. It’s very much like Tiger was —where even when things go wrong, there’s no weakness in his game and everything is a strength and he’s doing everything a bit better than everyone else and that’s very difficult to beat.
SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DUNK?
Tony Finau is one of the up-and-coming young players to watch, especially after his strong finishes at the U.S. Open (T14) and the PGA Championship (T10) last year. He was also one of the more prominent names who switched equipment companies and signed with Nike. He has 14 new clubs in his bag. Unlike most guys it seems, he’s not easing into the change and keeping one or two old faithful clubs. He’s just ripping the bandaid off with full force.
“The biggest change I feel like when you’re changing equipment with clubs and the ball is the ball, you gotta get used to the new feel and just the way the ball reacts around the green when you’re hitting full shots,” said Finau on Wednesday. “So the first thing we attacked was that, was getting the right ball, the one that I liked and the one that I felt was the most similar to what I’m already used to.
“So after that we went pretty much started from the green back. We started with the putter, did a lot of wedge work. That’s really important in my game, really in everybody’s game. But did a lot of wedge work. And then worked our way up to the irons. I thought the irons were awesome, really similar to the ones I was using at Callaway. So that was nice. And then they had a driving iron that I really liked. I used the driving iron last year. So that was really effective for me. So I had the same shots in that.
“But I was really impressed with the driver, driver-ball combination. I felt like the way it flew through the wind and crosswinds and things like that was really nice, cut through the wind a lot more than any ball I’ve ever played. So I like the way the driver sets up.
“Again, I’m going to try to put it into play this week. There’s a lot of work that’s been put into it so I’m anxious to get it out there and get it underway.”
On a way more fun note, Finau can dunk a basketball flat-footed, a feat that no other player on Tour can match (at least that we know of). He showed off his talents recently via Instagram.
“I think I can (beat anyone on Tour in a dunk contest) because I haven’t seen anybody else that can dunk with two hands,” said Finau, smiling. “I think a lot of guys can dunk a basketball, but there’s a lot of difference between barely being able to dunk and basketball and doing some kind of trick. So yeah, I think so. If there was a dunking contest, I think I could.”
He one-upped that when I asked if he could beat everyone in a one-on-one game.
“I do consider myself a good basketball player, and I probably play more than I should, because you could get hurt definitely playing basketball,” said Finau. “But I enjoy playing the game. And yeah, I think I’m one of the better basketball players for sure on the PGA Tour. I know there’s other guys that play and things, but yeah, I’d play against anyone.”
STRICKS IS BACK
Steve Stricker only made nine starts last season after being sidelined for most of the year due to back surgery. His last tournament was the PGA Championship, where he finished T30th. Stricker has cut back on his schedule in recent years, opting to spend more time with his family and at home. He plans to play more this year, though, now that he’s healthy.
“I came up with about 15 events, and that wasn’t even including the Playoffs,” said Stricker, referring to his schedule. “So things can change. I’m not exempt for any major or any World Golf Championship event, so I’ve got a lot of things hanging out there that I can work towards and try to get into some of these events. So that’s exciting, too. There’s always something to play for out here, and I’ve got a lot to play for this year.
“So that’s why I’m trying to get off to an early start and hopefully play good these next couple of weeks and try to get in contention. I’d love to win again. It’s been a few years. And that’s my no. 1 goal again this year is to try to get back in that winner’s circle.”
Stricker, who is now 48, has won 12 events on the PGA Tour, with nine of them coming after his 40th birthday. His last victory was at the 2012 Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Stricker won three times early in his career through 2001 before hitting a tough stretch and going through a slump for quite some time. He “officially” reemerged in 2009 when he won three times that year.
”At times I still don’t believe that that period of time and that stretch of golf happened, you know, that I played well for seven, eight years in a row,” said Stricker on Wednesday. ”So I think that’s a bit shocking to me.
“And then in that same breath, a little bit shocking to me that I decided to kind of say I’m stepping away. When I decided to step away, I was still playing very well. And so I think that kind of shocked me in a good way, too. I’m excited and I’m glad that I did that.
“But that was something I told myself when I was in my younger, middle 30s. I said, you know, it would be nice to kind of step away when I’m 45. And it so happened that I did it when I was 45. But still very much enjoy coming out here and playing to this day.”
Since Stricker went into semi-retirement, he hasn’t had a regular caddie and instead he’s opted to have his wife Nicki on the bag.
”She’ll throw a couple of F bombs out there at me,” said Stricker, laughing, when asked what his wife will say to lighten him up on the course. ”She’ll let it go. You know, she’ll be like pull your head out of your you know what and come on, let’s get going. She’s not afraid to tell me the way it is and the way it should be. So I appreciate that about her.
“She’s totally on my side, you know. I have no worries about her this week or next week and if she’s rooting for me or not. She’s as much a team player as anybody.”
Jimmy Walker is attempting to join some elite company at Waialae Country Club this week. He’s won the Sony Open the past two years and is going for a third. Only four players have achieved the feat in the last thirty or so years. That would include Tom Watson (Byron Nelson Classic), Stuart Appleby (Kapalua), Steve Stricker (John Deere Classic), and Tiger Woods (SIX different times).
“It’s going to be even more of a challenge,” said Walker. “I mean, trying to win three, I saw something the other day about the list of people that have won an event three times in a row and have won event four times in a row, and it’s small and there’s some really good names on it. Seeing how many times Tiger has done it at different tournaments. I mean four, he did four in a row like at three events. I mean it’s crazy.
“So yeah, going for three, that would be awesome to put your name in there and any of the guys that are around modern times. I saw Strick on there and Tiger. And it seems like that was about it. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to win two in a row let alone three times in a row.”
Walker has even won a tournament four straight years, but it dates back to his high school days.
“I won my 4A regional golf tournament four years in a row, freshman through senior,” he recalled.
He obviously has solid mojo about returning to a venue where he’s had success. Walker went on a stripe show over the weekend last year, where he shot scores of 62-63 on his way to a nine-shot rout.
“I feel good about being here and being back, and I can get out and shoot the golf shots and see the holes again,” he said. “You have good memories. And especially last year, I can remember just hitting some really quality shots coming in and making good putts. And even at the beginning of the week — I remember I started the week off on No. 1, I bogeyed the first hole of the week of the tournament.
“Coming off of losing in a playoff the week before, I was like, oh, man, are you really going to start this off by bogeying the first hole. And then obviously we righted the chip. Yeah, you get in a good mood. And everybody knows that there’s like a novelty everybody. Everybody is like we want to see the three-peat. We want to see the three-peat. It doesn’t happen very often. It would be cool. It would be fun to do.”
Remember the changes that have been made around the greens I mentioned Tuesday? Well, it’s not going to impact the way Jimmy plays the course, but theoretically, it should play easier if you just miss the green.
“Significant changes are how much grass they’ve shaved down, fairway height around the greens, whereas, before if you missed a green and you’re a foot off the collar, I mean you were in the rough,” he said. “Now, they’ve shaved — they’ve given you six, eight, ten feet in spots of just pure fairway grass to chip out of. So spots where you were kind of scrambling to make a par, you know, now you’re looking at maybe pitching some shots in.
“The only really hole I saw on the front that they did it, they did all on the back, but the front was No. 6 green. Very tight green, good hole. If you missed that green, you were always really scrounging to make par and now if you just miss it, you can put some spin on it and control the ball a lot better.”
And finally, the last word…
Q. If you win the Power Ball, would you quit playing golf?
JIMMY WALKER: No. I’d buy a jet.
BALLS IN THE AIR
I was going to post the Pro-Am scores in case anyone wanted them to help with their Fantasy Golf picks, but I guess that’s a completely moot point now. Well, here are the top finishers, anyway!
–Shawn Stefani: -9, 61
–Danny Lee: -8, 62
–Justin Thomas: -7, 63
–Jimmy Walker: -6, 64
–Brendon Todd: -6, 64
–Kevin Na: -6, 64
–Harris English: -6, 64
–Matt Kuchar: -6 (through 9)
–Gary Woodland: -5, 65
–Adam Scott: -5, 65
–Chris Kirk: -5, 65
–Steven Bowditch: -4, 66
–Steven Stricker: -4, 66
52-year-old Vijay Singh had a hot round Thursday, firing a seven-under 63 to take a share of the early lead with Ricky Barnes and Morgan Hoffmann.
Per usual, Singh was one of the last guys on the practice green Wednesday afternoon, grinding away for hours and hours. You can see (a blurry version of) him on the back left of the green in the picture above.
EVERYTHING HAPPENS FOR A REASON
20-year-old South Korean Si Woo Kim posted an opening round six-under 64 at the Sony Open on Thursday. He’s currently in solo fourth. I remember him from PGA Tour Q-school (RIP) in 2012, where he became the youngest graduate ever at age 17. He found himself in a complicated situation, though, which I explained here. It seemed really unfortunate at the time, but it was probably for the best that he spent a couple years on the Web.com Tour to mature and sharpen his game for the big boys tour.
Loving the look of Callaway’s latest clubs, the XR 16 woods and the MD3 wedges (I was absolutely obsessed with the MD2s, so can’t wait to get my hands on the MD3s!). I checked out Marc Leishman’s new gear — he switched from Titleist to Callaway in the new year.
Many thanks to Hawaii for providing top-grade hospitality and excellent weather for two weeks. It’s been real. Here’s one last look from the airport at the palm trees as the sun was starting to rise this morning…