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Memo to Tour players: Don’t blame the caddie

Jason Day (right) decided to let go Colin Swatton, who had been his caddie, coach and mentor. Day says Swatton will stay on as his coach. (Associated Press photo)

Ask anybody involved in professional golf: A bad shot, bad hole, bad round, bad tournament – even a bad year – is never the player’s fault. A noise in the crowd, a ball in a divot hole, changing wind, a stupid pin position, a tough pairing or a wretched spike mark left by another player’s shoes are all reasons for Tour players to get negative results.

Then, there’s the caddie. He talks too much or not enough or talks too soon or too late or can’t be on time, can’t read putts and can’t even do simple math. So, since you can’t fire the player, guess who gets the axe? Yessir, it’s the caddie.

‘Tis the season for caddie changes on the PGA Tour and most years, no one gives it more than a second thought. But lately, three of the highest profile players have split with their longtime caddies, which has made news.

Rory McIlroy parted ways with J.P. Fitzgerald, who had been on McIlroy’s bag since 2008 when McIlroy was 19. Around the game, it was said that Fitzgerald might not be the perfect caddie, but he was the perfect caddie at the time for a young McIlroy. McIlroy won four major championships with Fitzgerald.

A couple of weeks later, Jason Day let go Colin Swatton, who had been Day’s caddie since he’s been a professional. More importantly, he’s been Day’s mentor and swing teacher since Day was 12. Day won the 2015 PGA Championship with Swatton on the bag.

The first headline player-caddie breakup happened when Phil Mickelson and Jim “Bones” Mackay ended their 25-year professional relationship, although both swear that their personal relationship was not harmed one ounce.

McIlroy and Day also say their former caddies should not take their firings personally. Day maintains that Swatton will still be his coach and leaves the door open for them to one day reunite as player-caddie.

No one but them knows why Mickelson and Mackay separated. But McIlroy and Day both said their relationships with their caddies had gone the way of people who had been together too long. They wanted a new face standing next to them.

All three players have chosen people close to them as their temporary caddies. Mickelson’s brother Tim – who is also Jon Rahm’s manager – carried Phil’s bag for the next three tournaments. Now that Mickelson has been eliminated from the FedEx Cup playoffs, they will get some time to figure out what to do next.

McIlroy’s best man at his wedding, Harry Diamond, carried the bag for three tournaments and now that McIlroy’s FedEx Cup season is done, he says he won’t play again until next spring. Which means he has plenty of time to find a new caddie. And Day has a good friend, Luke Reardon, on the bag at least through this week’s Presidents Cup. Who knows what Day will do next on a temporary or permanent basis?

Caddies get way too much credit and an equal amount of blame. In the old days of the PGA Tour, all a player wanted was a caddie who would show up, keep up and shut up. Players did their own yardages and pulled their own clubs.

Somewhere along the way, caddies became more than just bag toters and adopted the roles of mathematicians, course strategists and close advisors. Which means caddies became easier to blame when things went wrong.

Good caddies work hard, collect all the pertinent information and give their man the best chance to hit good shots and shoot good scores. Mackay was a great caddie for Phil Mickelson because Mickelson likes a lot of information and can process it quickly. He might not be the best caddie for Dustin Johnson, who just wants wind and yardage and nothing too complicated.

But given what this trio of players has decided, the most important trait of a caddie is compatibility. Other than wives or significant others, players spend more time with their caddie than anyone else. So, they had better get along. And when that stops and the bickering starts, players decide it’s time for a change.

Caddies are expendable and they know it. They are like coaches: There are two kinds – those who have been fired and those who are waiting to be. But for once, just once, it would be refreshingly honest if the player didn’t blame the caddie and decided to take a long look in the mirror.

5 best value courses in Charleston, S.C.

Charleston National Golf Club is a country club experience open to the public. (Photo courtesy of Charleston National Golf Club.)

There’s plenty of high-end golf around the Charleston, S.C., area. Wild Dunes on the Isle of Palms and all the courses at the Kiawah Island resort will scratch your itch for some of the best golf in the country. However, if you are traveling in and around Charleston, here are five places where you can play good, solid courses for a fraction of the price.

Charleston National Golf Club, Mount Pleasant: Designed by Rees Jones and opened in 1990, Charleston National was intended to be a private club. However, Hurricane Hugo in 1989 scuttled those plans. The club has a membership, but the doors have been open to the public since the day it opened.

“Plenty of forced carries over marsh characterize this Rees Jones design, but handsome lowcountry vistas of Hamlin Sound, Bulls Bay and the Intracoastal Waterway will make the sting of losing a few spheres more palatable,” says Joe Passov of Golf.com. For more, www.charlestonnationalgolf.com.

The Club at Pine Forest, Summerville: Pine Forest is known to the locals as the place where you go to test your game. With a 74.1 course rating from the back tees, Pine Forest is plenty of golf for the best players. But even if your handicap is in double digits and you don’t like the tips, the course will still examine your skill in all areas of your game. For more, www.pineforestcountryclub.com.

Golf Club at Wescott Plantation, Summerville: Wescott Plantation is a 27-hole complex with three distinctive nines. Designed by Dr. Michael Hurdzan – who designed Erin Hills, host of this year’s U.S. Open – each nine blends into the natural environment of live oaks, wetlands and lakes. Wescott is owned by the City of North Charleston but nothing about it suggests a muni. For more, www.wescottgolf.com.

RiverTowne Country Club, Mount Pleasant: RiverTowne opened in 2001 and is Arnold Palmer’s only course design in the Charleston area. And the LPGA played an event for two years that had Annika Sorenstam’s name on it. RiverTowne sits along scenic marshland and has 13 holes along the Wando River and Horlbeck Creek. “We’ve taken full advantage of the outstanding natural terrain and landscaping to create a course as beautiful to non-golfers as it is to veteran players,” Palmer said at the time. For more, www.rivertownecountryclub.com.

Links at Stono Ferry, Hollywood: Architect Ron Garl is responsible for the golf course at Stono Ferry, but history is responsible for the ambiance. The Revolutionary War came through here in 1779 in the Battle of Stono Ferry, in which patriots fought British and Hessian troops. Garl’s design takes casualties of a different sort with three holes set along the Intracoastal Waterway and the others through forests and tidal creeks. For more, www.stonoferrygolf.com.’

 

Callaway updates iconic Steelhead fairway woods

When the original Callaway Steelhead fairway woods were introduced in 1998 players simply wouldn’t take them out of their bags, even years after the line was discontinued. Especially among Tour players, the Steelhead 3-wood and the iconic 4+-wood were favorites.

The company says the Steelhead family comprised the best-selling fairway wood line of all time. Callaway has now updated the popular model into the Steelhead XR.

Better players liked that the original Steelhead launched higher with low spin, which helped propel that design philosophy that permeates throughout drivers and fairways in the entire equipment industry.

The Steelhead XR encompasses the original design with what the company says are some important improvements. The original Hawkeye sole was designed for versatility in many lie conditions and the XR has been re-contoured to take on fairway, rough and even tall grass.

The crown is now make of the company’s J-36 carbon, which weighs just 6 grams, 20 grams lighter than Callaway’s previous fairway woods. The weight saved by the crown has been distributed elsewhere in the clubhead, making it easier to position the center of gravity (CG) lower and more forward and enabling the club to launch higher with low spin, just like the original.

The Hyper Speed Face Cup incorporates an extremely thin and flexible boundary area to encourage fast ball speed across a larger area of the face for long distance, even on mis-hits.

A wide variety of lofts are available, including 3+wood (13.5°), 3-wood (15°) , 4+wood (16°), 5-wood (18°), 7-wood (21°), 9-wood (24°) and Heavenwood (20.5°). The stock shaft is the Mitsubishi Tensei CK.

Webb Simpson makes it back to Tour Championship

Webb Simpson, who lives in Charlotte, is in the top 30 of the FedEx Cup standings for the first time since 2014. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

By Ron Green Jr.

Among the many benefits that come with earning one of the 30 spots in the Tour Championship this week at East Lake in Atlanta – that includes exemptions into the four major championships and the WGC events next season – the one Webb Simpson may value the most can’t be found on any list.

It’s the feeling that comes with having survived three cuts from a starting field of 125 to qualify for the season’s final event.

Defending champion Rory McIlroy didn’t make it to Atlanta. Neither did Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson or Louis Oosthuizen, who lost the final spot to Jason Dufner by less than one point. Charlotte resident Mackenzie Hughes was inside the top 30 entering the final round at the BMW Championship on Sunday but finished outside the cutoff.

“It’s amazing. It’s a goal of mine. It’s at the top of the list every year along with winning,” Simpson said.

“If I can get there, no matter how the year has gone, I’ve done well. I’m excited. I love that place.”

Simpson was a regular at East Lake for several seasons, but this will be his first trip back since 2014. While he is a long shot to win the $10 million FedEx Cup – Simpson starts in 16th place – he has a mathematical chance.

The spot at East Lake caps a resurgent season for Simpson. He didn’t win – Hideki Matsuyama beat him in a playoff at the Waste Management Open early in the year – but Simpson was more consistent this year and had more high finishes than in recent seasons.

It’s been two full seasons since Simpson abandoned his anchored putting stroke and he’s settled on a method that feels natural to him now. He has remained resolute in his conviction that he is on the right path to winning again.

“I just stayed patient. In the times when I was frustrated, I had to keep going instead of giving in to it,” Simpson said.

“I knew I had good people around me. (Wife) Dowd, (caddie) Paul (Tesori), everybody around me. I knew I had the team together. We just had a good plan. I just had to put it in place.”

It has taken Simpson back to where he wants to be – the Tour Championship at East Lake.

“Man, I love that place,” Simpson said.

‘The Cradle’ short course newest addition at Pinehurst

The Cradle, Pinehurst’s nine-hole short course that was designed by Gil Hanse, is set to open on Sept. 30. (Photo courtesy of Pinehurst Resort)

What is bound to be a popular addition to Pinehurst Resort, the nine-hole short course called The Cradle is about to open. Located just steps outside the main clubhouse at the resort, The Cradle was designed by architect Gil Hanse and has holes ranging from 56 yards to 127 yards.

It was built some 120 years since golf first appeared in Pinehurst and takes its name from those who believe Pinehurst is the Cradle of American Golf.

It’s no ordinary pitch-and-putt. Hanse took great care in designing The Cradle with greens, bunkering and natural areas that fit in remarkably with the Bill Coore-Ben Crenshaw revamping of Pinehurst No. 2.

“The beauty of golf at Pinehurst is that it is very natural, traditional and classic, especially architecturally,” says Hanse, whose restoration credits include projects at The Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Merion Golf Club and Oakland Hills Country Club as well as the original design work of The Olympic Golf Course in Brazil.

“That Pinehurst character, we believe, permeates through The Cradle. These nine little golf holes are on a historic piece of land, and we feel like each hole has its own identity that fosters the creativity golfers have enjoyed here for more than a century.”

Hanse has also been tapped to redesign the No. 4 course at Pinehurst. That work will begin in October.

The Cradle opens Sept. 30 and will be open to the public. It will have a greens fee of $50 for the fall months. The greens fee will adjust seasonally, the resort said. Juniors 17 and under can play The Cradle free when accompanied by a paying adult.

The Cradle opens just ahead of Thistle Dhu, the putting course that will be adjacent to The Cradle. At 75,000 square feet, Thistle Dhu is four times larger than the original putting green. It will open in early October, is open to the public and free to play.