Sergio was golf’s tragic figure; now he’s the champion he was meant to be

In the shadow of Medinah Country Club’s majestic clubhouse, at a PGA Championship long ago, Ben Crenshaw waited for his audience with the boy king. Crenshaw was a month away from serving as captain of the 1999 U.S. Ryder Cup team, so he was closely eyeing the final round of the PGA, watching to see how both teams might gel. Just moments earlier, Sergio Garcia had run out of holes in a thrilling duel with Tiger Woods, failing to claim the Wanamaker trophy but securing a spot in his very first Ryder Cup. “Boy, that kid is gonna be a handful,” Crenshaw said. Finally, the young Spaniard materialized, and Crenshaw offered him a manly hug and some down-home consolation: “You didn’t get this one, but you’re gonna win so many of these you’re gonna get tired of lifting trophies.”

Of course, who didn’t get swept up in the turn-of-the-century Sergiomania? The kid had it all, including a boyishness that transcended borders. But what Crenshaw couldn’t know was that the “99 PGA Championship would propel Woods to the most dominant run of golf ever played. Poor Sergio had his spirit crushed along the way, and by the time the 2002 U.S. Open rolled around, his public image had already curdled, culminating in him flipping the bird to a Bethpage gallery that was mercilessly heckling him. (Sometimes the jeers turned into mockery, as when Sergio showed up for the final round of the 2006 Open Championship, and another showdown with Woods, in an all-yellow outfit. Overserved fans took to calling him both “Big Bird” and “Banana Man.”) Over the next decade and a half, Garcia did indeed manage to lift many trophies, but of course no majors. He had good health, immense wealth and a string of glamorous girlfriends, and yet he somehow became a tragic figure—what the British tabloids liked to call a “nearly man.”

It was when we finally gave up on Garcia that he became the player he was meant to be, winning the 2017 Masters in one of the grittiest, most satisfying performances ever. Decades from now they’ll be singing songs in Spanish taverns about Garcia’s par out of the hazard on the 13th on Sunday, and his flag-hunting approach shots on 15 and 18, to say nothing of the decisive birdie in sudden death. That putt caught a piece of the hole and tumbled in. Back in the old days, when Garcia saw himself as a dogged victim of inexorable fate, his ball would have done a power lip-out and trickled off the green.

Much was made at Augusta of how Garcia has been changed by his fiancée Angela Akins, the former Golf Channel talent. Her father Marty is an underrated part of the story. Just as Dustin Johnson is benefiting from the hard-won wisdom of his future father-in-law, Wayne Gretzky, Garcia has fallen under the thrall of Marty, an All-American quarterback at the University of Texas who was such a schoolboy legend that LBJ personally recruited him on behalf of the Longhorns. On Saturday evening at this year’s Masters, I found Marty on a couch in the Augusta National locker room. He had tired of battling the crowds and was plopped in front of a large TV. “I want to see his eyes,” he said of Garcia. And what did his future son-in-law’s visage reveal? “I see confidence,” he told me. “He’s not afraid of anyone or anything.”

Where does Garcia go from here? Ben Hogan won eight majors after he turned 37. Phil Mickelson nabbed multiple majors at an advanced age. Maybe Garcia will go on a run to secure his place in the pantheon. Or maybe this Masters will be the exclamation point on a very good career. Either way, the man has already been made whole.

courtesy of (golf.com) Alan Shipnuck

Thanks for the memories: the 14 greatest Phil-Bones moments

May 26, 2017; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Phil Mickelson gets direction from his caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay before teeing off on the 9th hole during the second round of the Dean & Deluca Invitational golf tournament at Colonial Country Club. Mandatory Credit: Erich Schlegel-USA TODAY Sports ORG XMIT: USATSI-327610 ORIG FILE ID: 20170526_pjc_si4_894.JPG

Twenty-five years and 41 Tour wins later, one of golf’s most enduring relationships is over. As Phil Mickelson and his longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay part ways, we look back at 14 of their most memorable moments together.

PHIL, BONES. BONES, PHIL

As in a Hollywood bromance, the two meet cutely during a practice round at the 1992 Players Championship. Bones is caddying for Scott Simpson, who is playing with Gary McCord and a certain four-time All-American out of Arizona State. Phil has his father, Phil Sr., on his bag. After the round, Phil is signing autographs when he turns to Bones. “Are you interested?”  Um, you think?  “I mean, everybody was,” Bones recalls.

AN AUSPICIOUS DEBUT

Their first on-course action together takes place during the sectional qualifiers in Memphis for the 1992 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. Qualify, schmalify. Phil shatters the course record with Bones at his side.

THE FIRST WIN OF MANY

Phil already has one Tour win to his name: the 1991 Telecom Open, which he captured as an amateur. His first victory with Bones, though, comes soon enough. It’s at the 1993 Buick Invitational at Riviera, where Phil closes with a 65 to win by four.

WHAT A CATCH

Mickelson swings left but he throws right. A reminder comes before the final round of the 2001 PGA Championship, where he and Bones, like father and son, play catch in the parking lot.

FROM ONE GOLF NERD TO ANOTHER

“Caddying at a molecular level,” David Feherty calls it, after microphones capture a not-atypical conversation between Bones and his man at the 2012 Northern Trust Open in L.A. Should Phil hit a normal hook? A rounded hook? A standard “Pelz”? What about the wind? The ball could come it hot, or “side-slash” toward the flagstick. On and on it goes. Their chat is catnip for golf nerds. As for the shot itself? Ho-hum. Six feet from the cup.

FAMILY FIRST, BUT PHIL A CLOSE SECOND

It’s 2008, and Mackay’s brother, Tom, is getting married in Vermont—on the Saturday of the Deutsche Bank Championship outside Boston. Phil tells Bones to take the week off. Yeah, right. Instead, Mackay attends the morning wedding, then charters a flight back to Boston so he can loop for Phil that afternoon.

IT IS HIS TIME? YES! (AND BONES’S TIME, TOO)

After 12 years together and many close calls, it finally happens: trailing by three on the back nine on Sunday, Mickelson puts on a closing charge that culminates with a dramatic birdie bid on 18. The putt drops. Phil and Bones embrace in celebration of Mickelson’s first major win.

THE BREAKING POINT?

In announcing their split, Mickelson emphasized that no single incident led to the decision. But you know the Internet: people speculate. One moment commentators have zeroed in on took place on the 17th tee at TPC Sawgrass during the second round of this year’s Players Championship, where Phil and Bones engaged in a testy exchange over club selection. (“I understand what I need to do,” Phil said at one point. “I need numbers right now.”) Mickelson wound up hitting a hard wedge. Bones had reportedly suggested nine-iron. The ball found the water behind the island green.

A READ HE’D LIKE TO DO OVER

If caddies could take mulligans, Bones says he would like to take another crack at reading Phil’s birdie putt on the 17th hole at Pinehurst during Sunday’s final round. Bones thinks it will roll straight. The ball breaks right. Bye-bye, birdie. Mickelson winds up losing to Payne Stewart by one.

THE SELF-INFLICTED MASSACRE AT WINGED FOOT

On the cusp of winning the U.S. Open, Phil pulls driver on the 18th tee and blasts an errant shot into the trees. A failed attempt at an aggressive recovery shot later, and Mickelson is on his way to a double bogey, his title hopes dashed. “I’m such an idiot,” Phil says afterwards. Asked about the incident later, Bones says that given a second chance, he wouldn’t advise his man any differently.

THE SHOT

Sunday at the 2010 Masters. Phil’s tee shot finds the pine straw to the right of the 13th fairway. Two-hundred seven yards from the pin. A narrow gap between the trees. Rae’s Creek awaiting a sloppy shot. Bones raises the possibility of laying up. Mickelson is having none of it. “So I back off,” Bones recalled later, “and now we’re waiting for the green to clear.” The rest is history. A six-iron rifled to four feet, and a shot that lives on in Masters lore.

THE TEND HEARD ‘ROUND THE WORLD

Is Phil kidding? No, he’s not. During the second round of the 2017 Masters, Mickelson asks Bones to tend the flagstick for him as he plays a 61-yard wedge shot on the 13th hole, something he also famously did on the closing hole at Torrey Pines in 2011.

MONTEZUMA’S REVENGE

Under ordinary circumstances, Mackay would no sooner miss a tee time than John Daly would miss a meal. But circumstances aren’t normal at the 2017 WGC-Mexico Championship, where a stomach virus strikes Bones before the start of play on Friday. Bones starts the round but is too ill to finish. “You can’t replace somebody like Bones,” Phil says. But in what looks in retrospect like foreshadowing, Phil’s brother, Tim, fills in for Bones on the bag.

A WEEPY END TO AN OPEN

There’s not a dry eye on the 18th green at Muirfield as Mickelson captures the Claret Jug. After an emotional embrace, player and caddie walk off the course together, arms over each other’s shoulder. Phil is obviously choked up. Bones is shown on camera, wiping away tears. You were probably dewy-eyed, too.

  • Courtesy of Josh Sens (golf.com)

U.S. Open 2017: Johnny Miller pours cold water on Justin Thomas breaking his record

As Justin Thomas broke Johnny Miller’s record for low score in relation to par at the U.S. Open, people far and wide made cracks about the NBC announcer not enjoying the moment. Turns out, they weren’t too far from the truth.

Thomas shot a third-round 63 at Erin Hills — punctuated by an eagle on No. 18 — to match Miller’s famed final round score from the 1973 U.S. Open. But his nine-under-par total was one better than Johnny’s eight under at Oakmont.

RELATED: Our favorite Johnny Millerisms

Yet Miller seemed to pour some cold water on JT’s record-breaking round when Golf Channel’s Ryan Lavner spoke to him on Saturday evening:

“Taking nothing away from nine-under par — nine under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” Miller said. “But it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.” Hmm. . .

Of course, Miller has a point. Erin Hills, which is hosting its first major championship, has yielded unusually low scores for a U.S. Open. In addition to Thomas’ 63, there have already been four other rounds of 65, and more players broke par on Saturday than during any previous third round at the tournament. But. . . he still comes across as slightly bitter.

RELATED: The winners & losers from Day 3 at the U.S. Open

Although, Miller’s mixed reaction (he did give Thomas credit for going that low under U.S. Open pressure) shouldn’t come as a surprise. NBC booth partner Dan Hicks said during a recent Golf Digest podcast that Miller wasn’t too thrilled about Henrik Stenson shooting 63 in the final round of last year’s Open Championship. Not that we blame him. And he’s certainly not the first athlete to root against young whippersnappers coming after their predecessors’ records.

On the bright side for Johnny, he didn’t have to sit in the booth and analyze Thomas’ round on live TV. And we’re pretty sure this is the first time he’s ever trended on Twitter.

courtesy of Alex Myers (golfdigest.com)

Mickelson details what needs to happen for him to play U.S. Open, and now we wait

Phil Mickelson closed the FedEx St. Jude Classic with a 68.

Phil Mickelson closed the FedEx St. Jude Classic with a two-under 68 on Sunday, but when he plays next is anyone’s guess.

Mickelson said earlier this month he plans to skip next week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills in order to attend his daughter Amanda’s high school graduation in California, which is the same day as the opening round in Wisconsin. Mickelson is a U.S. Open victory away from the career grand slam and has finished as the runner-up in the event six times.

After his round on Sunday, CBS Sports’ Amanda Balionis asked Mickelson what needs to happen for him to make his tee time on Thursday, which is 3:20 p.m. EST.

“I need a four-hour delay,” Mickelson said. “I need a minimum four-hour delay most likely. That’s the way I kind of mapped it out. I should get into the air right around my tee time or just prior, it’s about a three-hour-and-twenty-minute flight, and by the time I get to the course I would need a four-hour delay. Last night there was a 60 percent chance of thunderstorms on Thursday; right now it’s 20 percent. Who knows. … It’s not looking good, but it’s totally fine.”

Mickelson, who hasn’t seen or played Erin Hills, added that he plans to keep his game sharp the next few days just in case.

courtesy of Josh Berhow (golf.com)

Golfer withdraws from U.S. Open sectional qualifier after airline loses his golf clubs

TELA, HONDURAS – MARCH 24: Michael Buttacavoli of the United States tees off on the 18th hole during the second round of the PGA TOUR Latinoamérica Honduras Open presented by Indura Golf Resort at Indura Golf Resort on March 24, 2017 in Tela, Honduras. (Photo by Enrique Berardi/PGA TOUR)

We’ve heard some horror stories through the years with airlines losing or damaging golf clubs, but this one is particularly sad. On Monday, Michael Buttacavoli was set to try to qualify for the U.S. Open — until his sticks never showed up. What a nightmare.

No big deal, American Airlines. It’s just the U.S. OPEN.

Buttacavoli, a 29-year-old currently playing on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica Tour, advanced through local qualifying by shooting 69 at The Club at Emerald Hills (Hollywood, Fla.) last month. He was to play in Monday’s sectional qualifier at Jupiter Hills Club in Tequesta, Fla., where an early 7:26 tee time gave him a small, but doable travel window after flying overnight to Miami from Ecuador after finishing T-51 in the Quito Open.

“I was met with supportive parents with food in the car and stuff I needed. My brother was going to caddie for me. I figured I’d get there, have a 30-40 minute warmup, and go,” Buttacavoli said when reached by phone on Monday. “My bag just never came.”

Instead, Buttacavoli, who has made it to sectional qualifying three other times, but never gotten into the U.S. Open, was forced to scramble back and forth between the baggage carousel and the counter, losing valuable time. His clothes made it off the plane, but he believes his golf bag got lost in the shuffle with clubs of other players on the flight who were on their way to the Dominican Republic for the next PGA Tour Latinoamerica event.

Following his initial tweet Monday morning, he exchanged messages with American Airlines:

And then with a fellow golfer:

PGA Tour pro Zac Blair weighed in wondering why he didn’t at least try with a rental set at the site with 49 players vying for just three spots.