Like parents away for the weekend who come back to find their house ransacked from an unauthorized party, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson missed the cut at the Greenbrier on Friday, only to let all hell break loose on Sunday.
When Ted Potter Jr. is taking his lashing, left-handed swing and his 218th Official World Golf ranking into a playoff with 464th-ranked Troy Kelly, known only to close family and friends as a professional golfer, you know Tiger and Phil have left the premises.
About the only normal thing to happen over the weekend was a South Korean winning the U.S. Women's Open. Na Yeon Choi made it four Koreans in the last five years to win America's championship, and even she did it in the most unorthodox of styles – surviving a triple bogey on the back nine by talking herself into it.
Maybe that's the best lesson from a weekend of crazy happenings: That when all else around you in the wacky game of golf is crumbling, just whistle past the graveyard and it'll all be OK.
With a five-shot lead on the 10th hole at Wisconsin's Blackwolf Run, Choi was moon-walking her way to victory. All she had to do was keep breathing and avoid triple bogeys. She took one part of her task to heart, and kept breathing.
As for avoiding triple bogeys? Well …
On the 10th tee, her severely tugged tee shot traversed into an unplayable hazard. After much debate about what to do, she re-teed and made a mess of the hole. She took an 8 and her five-shot lead was down to two, which isn't much of a lead at all. And it's the U.S. Women's Open. And there's suffocating pressure. And she's trying to fulfill a lifelong dream started when she saw Se Ri Pak win in 1998. And she made a snowman to start her back nine.
What to do?
Choi offered us all a life lesson: Forget about it.
Quick digression: Through the good fortune of being a golf writer, I once got to play a pro-am round with Dave Stockton at Sonoma Golf Club before a Champions Tour event. There are few professional players nicer than Stockton, who took more time than had to to chat me up and give me a playing lesson. As I continually hit bad shots and expressed flustered frustration, Stockton took stock of my situation, paused, then said simply: "Too much self-talk."
"Huh?" I asked.
"Self-talk," Stockton said. "We call it 'self-talk' out here. I'm listening to you, and you are self-talking your way out of any chance of hitting a good shot. Stop with the 'self-talk'. Hit a good shot."
He was right. Mental midgets like me have trouble processing failure on the golf course. It's why guys like me are, well, mental midgets.
Back to Choi. She's made an 8, she's about blow the U.S. Women's Open and instead of driving herself into a ditch, she decided to … forget about it.
Her answer: She talked to her caddie about anything but golf.
"About the airplane, about tomorrow, about the car, about vacation," she said.
Her mind freed from the shackles of agony, Choi went to the 11th hole and made birdie. She went to the 12th hole and made a long putt to save par. And when her tee shot on 13 implausibly bounced not once, but twice, on rocks abutting a water hazard and landed on the green, well, Choi was in the clear. A couple of good bounces, a par-saving putt and a mind not dwelling on torture blazed her path to a championship.
Her mind was free, and her game followed. That's Choi's lesson for all of us. Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Talk about anything else other than your triple bogey. Even drop a 'how about this heat?' to your nearest compadre if all else fails.
It worked for Choi, and she's a U.S. Women's Open champion.
See how easy that is?
Scorecard of the week
69-67-64-64 – 16-under 264, Ted Potter, Jr., winner, PGA Tour The Greenbrier Classic, The Greenbrier G.C., White Sulphur Springs, W. Va.
Well, of course, Ted Potter Jr. won Greenbrier. After all, Potter was playing his 16th Tour event. And he'd missed five consecutive cuts. And he had zero career top-10s on the PGA Tour. And Tiger and Phil were in the field. And U.S. Open champion Webb Simpson had the 54-hole lead.
So, Ted Potter Jr. won.
In a year of fourth-round comebacks, Potter's may top the list. Four strokes back of Simpson and with exactly nothing on his resume except mini-tour grinding to back it up, Potter finished eagle-birdie for his second consecutive 64, then took down fellow Web.com Tour graduate Kelly in the playoff. By the time Potter and Kelly were tangling at the Greenbrier in extra holes, Tiger had already watched Wimbledon from the comfort of his Florida home and tweeted his admiration for Roger Federer, calling him the ‘GOAT', or Twitter-ese for ‘Greatest of All Time'. (How we figure Tiger missed the cut one week after winning at Congressional may best be summed up by Tiger himself, who said on Friday evening after failing to qualify for the weekend: "We miss cuts out here. It happens." Tough to argue with that.)
Ted Potter Jr. isn't at ‘GOAT' status yet, but the 28-year-old Floridian is, all of a sudden, on his way to the British Open now. And to Augusta National next April. And exempt for the next two years on Tour. His left-handed swing is violent, his driving is accurate, his putting was tremendous over the weekend and his nerves held up.
Broadcast moment of the week
"It's been fun discovering some new guys this week, and they can play." – Jim Nantz, CBS, trying to explain a leader board of anonymous names at Greenbrier.
"And they've stood up. Unfortunately, Webb Simpson is the guy who hasn't stood up to today's pressure." – Nick Faldo, CBS, dropping the hammer on the U.S. Open champion.
You know it's an anonymous leaderboard when Peter Kostis says, with some degree of urgency, at one point late on a Sunday: "This is not good news for you Ken Duke fans."
Indeed, Duke's back-to-back double bogeys were not good news. What was bigger news was that Kostis feels there are enough Ken Duke fans out there to warrant an alert.
Ted Potter Jr … Troy Kelly … Ken Duke … Dan Summerhays … Charlie Beljan … wow, that was some parade of winless faces. Are we sure Tiger, Phil, John Daly and Tom Watson were in the same event?
Good for these guys. They gave us something new to talk about. And they proved to us the fleeting nature of the game, when Simpson wound up frittering away the title. Olympic Club's hero was Greenbrier's goat, and not in a Federer/Tiger sense. Simpson, in fact, ran off a hat trick of bogeys on the back nine that started on Greenbrier's statistically easiest hole, the par-5 12th.
Faldo implied Simpson's early-to-the-clubhouse U.S. Open final round carried with it some degree of anonymity, as he watched Simpson fumble at Greenbrier. "When you're meant to win," Faldo said, "that's the pressure."
Mulligan of the week
On Friday, the word came from Blackwolf Run. Michelle Wie shot 66 and sat one stroke off the halfway lead at the U.S. Women's Open.
One overarching thought came to mind: Wait .… Michelle Wie still owns golf clubs?
Oh! Sorry about that cheap shot. It's just that it seemed the women's golf world moved on without Wie. The women's golf world now belonged to Yani Tseng and anybody who dared challenge her, a group that did not include Wie.
To be fair, Wie has accomplished a lot in her 22 years. She has a degree from Stanford. She has two LPGA Tour wins. And she has, by all accounts, presented herself to the world as a mature, intelligent, charming young woman.
It's just that all the hype that guys like me heaped on her nearly a decade ago was too much, too soon. Not only will she never win the Masters … one of her early goals … she hasn't even become a Cristie Kerr or Paula Creamer figure on the ladies' tour.
That's why it was so exciting to see her surge on the Friday at Blackwolf Run. Her putting was lights-out in her 66, which was news itself. Wie's golf swing has never been questioned. Her putter sure has, though. And when the news came Saturday and Sunday that Wie went 78-80 to finish tie-39th, 17 shots behind the champion Choi, it was all too familiar.
Her putting was atrocious again on the weekend, and you wonder if it'll ever be passable. She was upbeat with reporters, saying the feeling of being in the hunt fueled her, and she looks forward to more. We'll take her word for it.
In the meantime, knowing that her weekend dreams were derailed early, with bogeys on her first two holes on Saturday en route to the 78, let's go back out to that first tee at Blackwolf Run in the third round, remind Wie of all her talent, remind her to shed all her pressurized demons, remind her to – like Choi – think about anything but golf, to rely on her innate talent, and to remind her how great the story would be if she contended late on a Sunday and … give that young lady a mulligan!
Where do we go from here?
It's time to start hyper-ventilating for next week's British Open at Royal Lytham, so don't expect a star-studded field at the John Deere Classic. Steve Stricker and Zach Johnson, two good Midwestern boys, are the only players ranked in the world top-20 teeing it up.
The U.S. Senior Open is set for Indianwood Golf and Country Club in Lake Orion, Mich., which means we get to see Tom Watson and Fred Couples try to win a championship neither has won.
If they get stuck for any advice under pressure, I refer them to the Book of Choi. Forget about it!
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