Wednesday, December 29, 2004
Singh used simple tools to help game
By DOUG FERGUSON
With so much focus on technology, Vijay Singh used rather primitive tools in his search for a swing that made him the No. 1 player in golf.
He placed a red shaft at his feet to help with alignment. He stuck another into the ground at an angle behind the red shaft. There was a water bottle about 12 inches behind and to the right of the ball. Then he neatly folded a golf glove and tucked it under his left arm.
It was a maze of simple objects that allowed him to groove his swing, and no one can argue with the results. Only five other players ever won as many as nine times in one PGA Tour season. No one ever won more than $10 million.
"It worked with my golf swing," Singh said. "When I get on the course, I don't have anything on me. I just go and play, and it keeps everything on line."
The stars were certainly aligned for the 41-year-old Fijian, leaving the most lasting image of 2004. Here are some other moments that went beyond birdies and bogeys, a silver claret jug and a 14-inch gold cup:
Mathias Gronberg had a minor issue with how his name was spelled at the Nissan Open. It didn't include two dots over the "o," which in Sweden makes for an entirely different vowel.
When he asked for the Swedish vowel, a tournament official told him, "If you're going to play in this country, you have to bring your own dots."
For the last two rounds, Gronberg used a black pen to mark two dots in his name on the back of his caddie's bib.
A change in routine
Kevin Sutherland was in the lead Saturday at The Players Championship, the first time he had at least a share of the 36-hole lead in eight years.
His wife, Mary, dropped off their son at day care before coming out to the TPC at Sawgrass. But after nine holes, she decided it was time to pick up 3-year-old Keaton. Like most parents, she likes to stick to a routine.
"We're not used to playing this late on the weekend," she said.
Spoke too soon
A corporate outing the day before the "Battle at the Bridges" included Ron Drapeau, the CEO of Callaway Golf. During a backup on the 18th tee, Drapeau noticed someone hitting the Callaway VFT driver, introduced in 2000.
"You're about seven technologies behind," Drapeau said. "Here, try this one."
He handed the amateur a new ERC Fusion and a Callaway HX Tour Black golf ball. The tee shot tailed off a little to the right, not much different from the first shot.
The man handed Drapeau the driver and said he would return the ball if he found it.
"Don't worry about that," Drapeau replied smugly. "I can get as many of those as I want."
The next day, he was forced out at Callaway.
For the last decade, Liezl Els has been drawing maps of every hole at the major championships and charting every shot struck by her husband, Ernie, and whoever is playing with him.
Whistling Straits presented a stern test for her, too.
If the severe mounds and bluffs along Lake Michigan were not difficult enough to sketch, the links-styled course also has some 1,400 bunkers, even though only a fraction were in play.
As she walked along the 11th fairway in the first round, someone asked her how it was going.
Never bashful about speaking her mind, she said, "I refuse to draw any of these bunkers unless he gets in one. This is ridiculous."
Three holes later, Els pulled his tee shot into a massive bunker on the 14th.
Liezl was standing on a bluff, scribbling away.
Land of confusion
The World Golf Championships have their own criteria for qualifying, which can lead to some confusion.
Tiger Woods was in the locker room at Firestone after the second round of the NEC Invitational, talking about the upcoming Ryder Cup. He was reminiscing about the '02 matches at The Belfry and was asked a hypothetical question. If Phil Mickelson had beaten Philip Price, and assuming Woods had held off Jesper Parnevik, did he think Davis Love III would have won the last hole to defeat Pierre Fulke and win the Ryder Cup?
Woods paused, and then his eyes lit up.
"That's what Fulke is doing here," Woods said.
Fulke has played so badly the last two years that he wasn't eligible for any of the majors in 2004. He got into Firestone because he was on Europe's '02 Ryder Cup team.
How to be a pro
A scene at the Canadian Open showed that kids can compete on the PGA Tour, but there is still plenty to learn about being a professional.
At the far end of a walkway, with fans lined up behind a fence seeking autographs, Davis Love III had finished signing and was speaking to an elderly gentleman. Love looked him in the eye, gave him an e-mail address of his design company and didn't walk away until the conversation was over.
Casey Wittenberg, who left Oklahoma State after his freshman year to turn pro, was standing about 10 feet away with his neck leaning on his shoulder. He was talking on his cell phone, grabbing programs and scribbling his name without ever looking at the fans, dialed into his phone conversation.
Not much left to do
The running joke after Europe demolished the United States in the Ryder Cup was that Bernhard Langer was voted the best European captain in history, and Hal Sutton came in second.
Paul McGinley didn't find that funny.
One of his lasting memories from Oakland Hills was meeting in the hotel at 4:30 a.m. the Monday after to take a bus to the airport. Sutton and his wife, Ashley, were downstairs in the lobby to shake the hand of every player and give them a proper send-off.
"That, to me, is what the Ryder Cup is all about," McGinley said.
Asked about his final act of sportsmanship, Sutton laughed and said, "That's the best we can do when he get our (behinds) kicked."
Too bad Jan Stephenson wasn't at the reception at Mar-A-Lago in West Palm Beach, Fla., where Rolex honored Shi Hyun Ahn of South Korea as LPGA Tour rookie of the year.
Stephenson said last year that Asians were "absolutely killing" the LPGA Tour because of their refusal to speak English. Ahn speaks almost exclusively Korean, but she took a bold step before a large crowd.
She decided to give her acceptance speech in English, and her nerves were obvious.
Ahn waved her speech in front of her face to cool her face. She kept reaching for a glass of water. As she was being introduced, Ahn cast her eyes to the ceiling and repeatedly mouthed the words to her speech in rehearsal.
Dressed in an elegant pink dress, Ahn stood behind the podium and slowly enunciated each word. She thanked Rolex, which sponsors the award; Louise Suggs, an LPGA founder after whom the award is named; her parents; and the LPGA for giving her the opportunity.
"I'm proud to be a member of this association," she said.
With a loud ovation ringing in her ears, Ahn returned to her seat, bowed her head and covered her face.
It was a command performance.