A busy quar­ter

With Mas­ters on hori­zon, plenty of hap­pen­ings in golf so far

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - GOLF BLACKHAWKS - Teddy Green­stein tgreen­[email protected]­bune.com Twit­ter @Ted­dyGreen­stein

Let the record show that in 2019, the an­gry Twit­ter mob re­placed the po­lite golf clap. The name Matt Kuchar be­came syn­ony­mous with con­tro­versy. Phil Mick­el­son’s calves be­came a sen­sa­tion, “back­stop­ping” be­came a thing and some­one de­cided match-play holes were no longer “halved,” they were “tied.”

That ge­nius de­serves eter­nal damna­tion (or at least a buried lie) in St. An­drews’ “Hell Bunker.”

Here’s the crazy thing: The 2019 golf sea­son has barely be­gun. The first ma­jor is next week. A lit­tle-bitty course in Au­gusta, Ga., will do the host­ing.

So here’s a top-10 list of all the crazy stuff that went down by April 1, no foolin’:

1. Here’s a tip: Don’t stiff your cad­die.

Kuchar ended a four-year PGA Tour drought by win­ning the Mayakoba Clas­sic in Novem­ber in Mex­ico. It all went down­hill (but not down­wind) from there.

With his reg­u­lar cad­die, John Wood, tak­ing a breather, Kuchar hired a lo­cal named David Or­tiz. Kuchar’s vic­tory earned him nearly $1.3 mil­lion. He and Or­tiz had agreed to $4,000 for a top-10 fin­ish, and Kuchar added a $1,000 bonus. He deemed that fair. Or­tiz and the pub­lic did not. (Tour cad­dies typ­i­cally re­ceive up to 10 per­cent for a win.) Kuchar’s agent even­tu­ally of­fered an ad­di­tional $15,000, “and it was re­jected,” Kuchar said. “That’s when I got stub­born.”

And that’s when Matt Kuchar, pre­vi­ously known as Mr. Nice Guy on tour, started get­ting cat­calls from spec­ta­tors dur­ing rounds. He fi­nally apol­o­gized in Fe­bru­ary and gave Or­tiz the full $50,000 he re­quested.

2. There’s slow, there’s slower and there’s J.B. Holmes.

If there’s any­thing worse than a slow player, it’s an un­re­pen­tant slow player. Or in Holmes’ case, an un­re­pen­tant slow player who doesn’t care about ru­in­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence for spec­ta­tors, fel­low com­peti­tors and TV view­ers.

Sports are sup­posed to be en­ter­tain­ment, right? Dur­ing the fi­nal round of the Farm­ers In­sur­ance Open, Holmes took 4 min­utes, 10 sec­onds to hit his sec­ond shot on a par-5. The kicker: He laid up.

Blame should be shared by the PGA Tour, which should have pe­nal­ized Holmes for slow play. Ap­par­ently Holmes put those tour mon­i­tors to sleep with his four-cor­ners rou­tine.

Said Holmes: “When I first got out here (on tour), I was re­ally slow. But I’ve sped up quite a bit.”

I used to rob banks, your honor, but now I just break into cars!

3. Oh­h­h­hhh, Ser­gio.

The birdie-mak­ing (and ex­cuse-mak­ing) Spa­niard has a green jacket and a seem­ingly happy mar­riage, but he has yet to find in­ner peace. He got dis­qual­i­fied from the Saudi In­ter­na­tional in Fe­bru­ary af­ter what tour­na­ment of­fi­cials called “se­ri­ous mis­con­duct” — caus­ing dam­age to five greens by turn­ing his put­ter into a weapon of brass de­struc­tion.

Garcia did apol­o­gize to his fel­low com­peti­tors and the pub­lic, writ­ing: “I am an emo­tional player and while I be­lieve that’s one of my big­gest strengths, it’s also one of my big­gest flaws. I’m fo­cused on work­ing hard to chan­nel that emo­tion the cor­rect way and to be the best me.”

4. Garcia and Kuchar col­lab­o­rated on a cringe-wor­thy video.

The two PR dis­as­ters met in the WGC Match Play and man­aged to start another Twit­ter grease fire. Garcia missed a 7-foot par putt and then quickly and care­lessly tried to back­hand the tap-in. That missed too. Kuchar said he didn’t have time to con­cede the 4-inch putt — and Garcia did not look up to ask.

Af­ter los­ing another hole, Garcia re­port­edly asked Kuchar to con­cede a hole af­ter what tran­spired on No. 7. Kuchar de­clined, and both got crushed on so­cial me­dia.

On April Fool’s Day, the two posted an edited video fea­tur­ing a lot of awk­ward smiles. Kuchar said Garcia “han­dled the thing ex­tremely well,” while Garcia re­sponded, “I made a mis­take and he un­for­tu­nately didn’t know how to make up for what hap­pened … but it’s all good. We’re all good.”

Of course.

Side note: I have an idea for a cold open of a golf ver­sion of “Satur­day Night Live.”

5. Gal­leries gone wild.

As Tiger Woods was about to hit a shot at Austin Coun­try Club in the Match Play, cad­die Joe LaCava pulled a base­ball cap off of a spectator who im­me­di­ately put up his hands to apol­o­gize for what­ever he did wrong. (Un­like Woods’ for­mer cad­die, the goon­ish Steve Wil­liams, LaCava has a great rep­u­ta­tion.)

Also dur­ing that event, Bubba Wat­son ham­mered a tee shot and then said to a heck­ler: “It’s funny how tough you are but then look away. … Ev­ery­one is big be­hind the ropes.”

Per­haps the heck­ler got the last laugh. Wat­son lost his match to Kevin Na in un­usual fash­ion: Wat­son’s blast from a green­side bunker rolled back into his foot­print. His sec­ond at­tempt also did not reach the green, and as his yel­low ball was rolling back to­ward him, he scooped up the ball, hopped onto the green and fist-pounded Na to con­cede.

6. They fought the law, and the law won.

The USGA and PGA Tour in­sti­tuted 37 new rules. USGA CEO Mike Davis called them “by and large a huge suc­cess.” Ummm, no. While hacks like me love the new rule al­low­ing the flag­stick to re­main in while putting, thus speed­ing things up, the play­ers have bashed a bunch.

Rickie Fowler made fun of the new drop rule (the ball must be dropped from knee height) by squat­ting and reach­ing be­hind his der­riere be­fore drop­ping his ball.

Oth­ers slammed a new rule pro­hibit­ing play­ers from re­plac­ing a dam­aged club. Another that drew ire: Adam Schenk was pe­nal­ized two shots be­cause his cad­die stood be­hind him once he took his stance in a bunker.

Af­ter Justin Thomas called the new rules “ter­ri­ble,” the USGA’s PR Twit­ter feed re­sponded with this: “Justin, we need to talk. You’ve can­celled every meet­ing we’ve planned with you, but we are reach­ing out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tour­na­ments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the ta­ble for 7 years. We’d love noth­ing more than to give you a seat. Call us.”

Thomas called that “in­ac­cu­rate,” and the USGA backed down: “Af­ter fur­ther and more di­rect con­ver­sa­tions with @JustinThom­as34, we re­al­ize he did not avoid a dis­cus­sion with the USGA nor can­cel any meet­ings.”

D’oh!

7. Walk the walk.

Na amuses gal­leries by walk­ing in his putts, strolling to the hole be­fore the ball dis­ap­pears into the cup. While play­ing with Woods on the is­land-green 17th at TPC Saw­grass in The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship, Na prac­ti­cally re­trieved his ball be­fore it went half­way down.

Woods then im­i­tated him, draw­ing chuck­les from the NBC booth. The play­ers fist-bumped and gig­gled as they walked to the 18th tee.

8. (No) prac­tice makes per­fect.

Woods hit the re­cov­ery shot of our dreams in Austin. From his knees. In the mid­dle of a bush. Left-handed. With the club turned over. He punched it to 4 feet. And made the putt.

9. Re­al­ity bites.

Here’s how we know golf isn’t scripted. Woods clashed with a Dan­ish pro named Lu­cas Bjer­re­gaard in a Match Play quar­ter­fi­nal. And Bjer­re­gaard won. Woods missed a 4-foot putt on No. 18 that could have ex­tended the match, depriv­ing a large TV au­di­ence of a play­off.

10. We lost a leg­end.

Dan Jenk­ins, who died last month at 90, once wrote that the “golf ball has no sense at all, which is why it has to be given stern lec­tures con­stantly, es­pe­cially dur­ing the act of putting.” And when Woods was at his peak, Jenk­ins opined: “Only two things can stop Tiger — in­jury or a bad mar­riage.”

No one will ever do it bet­ter. Rest in peace.

GRE­GORY SHAMUS/GETTY-AFP

Kevin Na, left, and Tiger Woods shared a light mo­ment in The Play­ers Cham­pi­onship.

ERIC GAY/AP

Ser­gio Garcia and Matt Kuchar, right, were em­broiled in a con­tro­versy dur­ing their match in last week’s WGC Match Play.

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