Johnny Miller once said that the longest walk in golf is from the practice tee to the first tee. That’s especially true when a golfer is trying to make major swing changes, and it was proven again on the tournament scene on the weekend.
Before we get to that, however, how about the eight-under-par 64 that Phil Mickelson shot while playing with Tiger Woods in Sunday’s final round to win the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am? The 41-year-old played just about perfect golf to come from six shots out of the lead after 54 holes. He dusted Woods, who started four shots out of the lead, by 11 shots. Woods tied for 15th.
Meanwhile, third-round leader Charlie Wi four-putted the first green, taking three putts from three feet. He fought hard to get back to even-par 72 for the day, but he didn’t really contend after his opening debacle of a double-bogey. He still finished second, but that’s hardly what he wanted. Wi, a Stack & Tilt convert, was trying to win his first PGA Tour event.
While we’re at it, how about 18-year-old Jessica Korda’s win in the Australian Women’s Open at Royal Melbourne, one of the best courses in the world? She won in a six-way playoff when she holed a long birdie putt on the second extra hole. My Globe colleague Jeff Brooke picked her last year as a player to watch. People will be paying attention now, that’s for sure.
Anyway, back to Miller’s observation. Woods has been trying to incorporate and solidify and make his own swing changes under his coach Sean Foley. He’s made progress, certainly. After all, Woods has contended in his last two 72-hole tournaments, the Abu Dhabi HSBC Champions and now the AT&T. But he hasn’t gotten the job done. He hasn’t looked anything like his old, winning, blow them all away golfing self.
At Pebble Beach on Sunday, Woods looked ill at ease. He frequently made rehearsal swings, which suggests he hasn’t reached that level of “unconscious competence” sports psychologists always talk about as being the final stage of learning. Of course, he putted abominably. Woods used to make everything. Lately he’s been making nothing, especially when in counts on Sundays that he’s in contention.
Woods was hardly the only golfer to demonstrate the difficulty of taking changes to the course in a tournament. Mike Weir played the AT&T, his first tournament after seven months away because of elbow surgery. He shot 70-73-78 to miss the cut by seven shots. It’s difficult to assess his ball-striking without having seen him hit a shot, but, clearly, he did not bring the game he needs to compete. Weir had reportedly been hitting the ball very well in practice, on the range and during rounds. But at least he got the feeling of being back in a tournament.
Then there’s Lorie Kane. She’s 47, she has plenty of enthusiasm for the game, and she’s been working hard with Foley. The Charlottetown, PEI native was only two shots out of the lead after three rounds at Royal Melbourne. But she reversed course the last round, shot 80, and tied for 22nd, eight shots out of the playoff that Korda won.
I’d e-mailed Foley before the last round to ask how recently he and Kane had worked together, and what they were trying to do.
“We worked right before she left [for Australia]” Foley replied. “It’s pretty simple stuff. More athletic at set-up and then making sure she really focuses hard on hitting down on the ball and finishing with all her weight on her left side. Very dynamic. Her geometry is very clean right now. Just trying to ensure that she has a strong platform to fire from.”
Golf is one tough game, even at the highest levels, especially at the highest levels. As Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee said after the AT&T ended, “We were reminded today how hard it is to win.” Precisely, or to put it another way, to make that walk from the practice tee to the first tee no big deal.
The trouble is, it is.
Lorne Rubenstein has written a golf column for The Globe and Mail since 1980. He has played golf since the early 1960s and was the Royal Canadian Golf Association’s first curator of its museum and library at the Glen Abbey Golf Club in Oakville, Ontario and the first editor of Score, Canada’s Golf Magazine, where he continues to write a column and features. He has won four first-place awards from the Golf Writers Association of America, one National Magazine Award in Canada, and he won the award for the best feature in 2009 from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada. Lorne has written 12 books, including Mike Weir: The Road to the Masters (2003); A Disorderly Compendium of Golf, with Jeff Neuman (2006); This Round’s on Me (2009); and the latest Moe & Me: Encounters with Moe Norman, Golf’s Mysterious Genius (2012). He is a member of the Ontario Golf Hall of Fame and the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame. Lorne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . You can now follow him on Twitter @lornerubenstein