Yes, a geezer, by today’s standards, won the Honda Classic on Monday. Padraig Harrington, the affable Irishman, 43, prevailed over Daniel Berger, 21, on the second hole of a playoff at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Daniel Berger after making birdie at 18 (Getty Images)
So the old guys won this round. But the game does seem to be trending younger, even this young: The best player in women’s golf is a girl, Lydia Ko, 17.
Berger, meanwhile, is part of a high school class of 2011 that includes Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, each of them also 21 and already factors on the PGA Tour. Then there’s Berger’s Florida State teammate Brooks Koepka, 24, who won the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, and Patrick Reed, also 24, who not long ago declared himself a top five player in the world and is closing in on proving it.
Other tour winners in the 2014-15 season include Ben Martin and Robert Streb, each 27, Sang-Moon Bae 28, Jason Day, 27 and Nick Taylor 26.
“They’re better prepared when they get on tour,” Arizona State coach Tim Mickelson said, explaining the influx of youth. “They’re not afraid, not concerned and they’re thinking about winning. College golf is so deep now. The amount of competition is so much better than it used to be.”
They’re unafraid because they’ve competed against one another in college and even dating to junior golf, Mickelson said.“With Jon [Rahm] playing well at the Phoenix Open, we’ve got guys saying, ‘well I beat him two weeks ago in a match.’ I certainly think you can feed off that.”
Rahm, a 20-year-old Arizona State junior, tied for fifth in the Phoenix Open, ahead of Spieth, Berger and Streb, all of whom occupied the top 10.
“We've all played against each other for years and years now,” Koepka said in Phoenix. “When you see someone else succeed, you're thinking in your mind, hey, I've played with him for years and years. I know that I can compete with him week in, week out.”
Berger has played only 11 events as a tour member and has finished in the top 10 in three of them, the top 25 in six. He already has earned $1,188,405.
He shot 64 in the final round of the Honda Classic, but lost the playoff when he hit his tee shot on the second playoff hole into the water.
“It’s all a learning process,” he said, a reminder that he and his ilk are still undergoing an education, even as they’re already threatening to conquer the world.
In the last two years Harrington has struggled with his putting, ranking outside the top 100 in strokes gained/putting and residing at 107th in that stat entering the Honda. At PGA National's Champion Course, however, Harrington putted well enough (0.168 strokes gained, ranked 37th), including the clutch 16-footer for birdie to get into a playoff with Daniel Berger.
The putter Harrington used was a Wilson Infinite South Side center-shafted mallet that utilizes a 104-gram grip to produce a counterbalanced effect. And for history buffs there is this: The last time a Wilson putter won a PGA Tour event it was in 1995 when John Daly used a Wilson 8802 blade to win the British Open at St. Andrews.
Ball: Titlist Pro V1x
Driver: TaylorMade AeroBurner (Mitsubishi Kuro Kage Silver 60 TX, 9 degrees
Driver: TaylorMade SLDR Mini, 12 degrees
3-wood: TaylorMade SLDR, 15 degrees
Hybrid: Wilson D100, 19 degrees
Irons (4): Wilson FG Tour V4; (5-PW): Wilson FG Tour V2
Wedges: Wilson FG Tour (52 degrees); Ping Eye2 Gorge (60 degrees)
Putter: Wilson Infinite South Side
Poulter blocked his tee shot into a hazard. Then after dropping, he hit his next shot off a palm tree and back into the hazard. Poulter made a 19-footer to save triple bogey, but the damage was done. Check out the video:
And here's what Poulter's hole looked like on PGA Tour's Shot Tracker:
All things considered, shooting a 74 at PGA National after hitting five balls in the water is a pretty amazing score. But that's not going to make Poulter feel any better. The 54-hole leader missed a playoff by one shot and remained winless in stroke-play events in the U.S.
It was great duel at the Honda Classic, but not between the two people we thought. Patrick Reed and Ian Poulter may have commanded the conversation at the start of the day, but it's Daniel Berger and Padraig Harrington who are the last two left standing. Berger came back from nine strokes at the start of the round to finish at six under, while Harrington forced a playoff with a clutch birdie on the 18th after a double on the hole before.
Paddy ultimately pulled through after another clutch shot on the second playoff set up an easy par and forced a mistake from Berger.
It's a nice feel-good story, and a victory that was a long-time coming...right?
Padraig Harrington this season on the PGA Tour: T75 Cut T73 Cut Cut Cut Cut T56 Won playoff. Golf.— Mike O'Malley (@GD_MikeO) March 2, 2015
As our own Alex Myers pointed out on Twitter on Saturday: Padraig Harrington went into the Honda Classic ranked No. 297 in the Official World Golf Ranking, which, strangely, was the same spot occupied by James Hahn when he won last week. It's been a long, hard fall in the rankings for Harrington since his last PGA Tour victory at the 2008 PGA Championship, but if it doesn't look like he'll be occupying that 297th spot for much longer.
Coming off a birdie on No. 14, Reed approached the first leg of PGA National's "Bear Trap" tied for the lead. But he dunked his tee shot in the water on the par-3 15th hole.
Well I never young Reed, stick your head in the water and tell them fishies to shush. Lovely.— Tweeter Alliss (@TweeterAlliss) March 2, 2015
Ouch. The resulting double bogey dropped him two shots back of Padraig Harrington with three holes to go.
Ian Poulter's wild final round just turned disastrous on the 14th hole. After pushing his driver way right and into a hazard, Poulter dropped, and hit his next shot off a palm tree and into more water. That makes an incredible five balls in the water through 14 holes for the man who had a three-shot lead through 54 holes. Hopefully, his caddie put a few extra in the bag.
This guy is busy at PGA National. pic.twitter.com/xR4R4H6UMi— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) March 2, 2015
Poulter eventually found the green and holed a 20-footer for triple bogey. Here's a look at how the hole played out on PGA Tour ShotTracker:
Meanwhile, playing partners Padraig Harrington and Patrick Reed birdied the hole to share the lead at 7 under. Poulter fell to three under and into a share of sixth place. Looks like that first stroke-play victory in the U.S. will have to wait.
- Alex Myers
Poulter in water on 11. Sunday all over again. Game on.— Doug Ferguson (@dougferguson405) March 2, 2015
Poulter goes splash on 11. Game on.— Stephanie Wei (@StephanieWei) March 2, 2015
Game on now, Poulter just sent one a swimming!— Dave Vollrath (@dave_vollrath) March 2, 2015
Definitely game on again as Poulter dumps second into water at 11th!— Martin Dempster (@DempsterMartin) March 2, 2015
“Most Tour pros, [Greg] Norman said, don’t really want to reach the top, not down deep, not in a sport where 20th place can pay six figures. ‘Certain players are happy just going through the motions. They don’t want to be the leader, they would rather be a sheep. They enjoy grazing the field and getting fat and sassy,’ he said.” Normal assesses today’s players in this story by John Paul Newport of the Wall Street Journal.
Ben Crenshaw, twice a winner, will make his final appearance in the Masters next month. “It’s a little bittersweet, but good Lord I’m just thankful for all the time I’ve had there,” he said in this story by Lee Pace at pinehurst.com. “I’ve spent well over half my life going to Augusta. It’s obviously been a great part of my life. I’ll continue to go each year, tearfully, and watch other people. It’s time to do that. The golf course is just a little too much for me, which is fine, that’s the way life goes. I’m resigned to that.”
“Over the years, Ryder Cup players and captains have come in all shapes and sizes. Which is appropriate. Because so has Darren Clarke,” John Huggan of the Scotsman writes in this reflection on Clarke and the Ryder Cup. “The man who will lead the Old World into battle with the New at Hazeltine next year is a relatively svelte figure these days but the formerly burly Ulsterman was a much bigger physical presence during all of his five playing appearances in Europe’s colours.”
“As [International Olympic Committee President Thomas] Bach and his executive board were wrapping up a 2 ¿-day meeting in Rio, a small group of protesters gathered outside the luxury hotel at Copacabana Beach holding signs that read ‘Thomas Bach is a nature killer’ and ‘The city is not for sale.’ Stephen Wilson and Stephen Wade of the Associated Press examine those protesting on environmental concerns the Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro.
Dayton Olson was a talented amateur who turned pro in 1965. He played in one PGA Tour event and one Champions Tour event -- the 1983 U.S. Senior Open, at Hazeltine -- and made the cut in both. He also won the 1963 Manitoba Open, a PGA Tour Canada tournament now known as the Players Cup. He owned driving ranges in Minnesota, and died in 2011.
Recently, his son Mike, a reader in Oregon (and a talented amateur himself, with a lifetime low handicap of plus-2) wrote with some reminiscences:
Winning the Manitoba Open got my dad a 10-year exemption. We lived in Minnetonka, and every summer we would go up to Winnipeg for a little vacation, and my dad would play in the tournament. When I was old enough, I would caddie for him, and he would let me bring my clubs. I played with him during a practice round before one of the Opens, and at about five in the evening, when we were on the tenth tee, this guy comes walking around some shrubs and asks if he can join us. I thought he was a nut, or an old hacker, but he and my dad knew each other, and my dad whispered, “Just watch him.” He teed his ball on a golf pencil, and I was thinking I don't want to play with this clown -- but then he striped it 260 down the middle. He played very fast, and would often talk while he was swinging, but he kept hitting near-perfect shots. It was intimidating for me -- but he was very friendly, and when I would hit one of my few good shots he would say, “There ya go, kid -- good one.” He seemed like he was just fooling around, and he took zero time, especially for putts, which he didn’t even line up, but he still shot about two-under for nine holes.
The stranger was the Canadian golf legend Moe Norman (photo above), who, among numerous other accomplishments, had won the Manitoba Open three years in a row, in 1965-’67. Olson saw him again at the same tournament in 1971, when he was 15:
I caddied for my dad, and he did well in the tournament, and when he was finished we left his bag by the practice green and he went into the clubhouse. Moe was leading, so I stayed. He ended up in a tie, and 60 or 70 of us went out to watch the playoff. On the second hole, Moe has about a 40-footer for birdie, and he lags it up, like, two inches from the hole, and the other player, a young guy from Florida, says “Pick it up” -- and Moe scoops up the ball with his putter. As they’re walking to the next tee, some tournament officials come running up, and they’re telling Moe he can’t pick up his ball like that, because this is stroke play, not match play. And Moe can’t believe it. He says, “He gave me the putt -- are you guys deaf?” And then, “Well, this sure is a bunch of crap. I’m never coming back here. Winnipeg is a bush town anyway.” And he starts walking off the course.
The other player was John Elliott, Jr., then in his early twenties. He had served in the Army in Vietnam, and had won the Bronze Star. He was married to Sandra Post, a Canadian pro, who won eight times on the LPGA Tour, including the 1968 LPGA Championship. (The marriage didn’t last.) Today, Elliott (below) is a teaching pro in Florida and an occasional Golf Digest contributor.
Elliott told the tournament officials that he was responsible for Norman’s violation, and that he didn’t want to win because of a mistake that he had caused. The gallery and the tournament sponsor got involved, too, and, in the end, the officials decided to let the playoff continue. Back to Olson:
They ran after Moe, and begged him to come back. You could tell he was really angry, and that he didn’t want to keep playing. But eventually he did. They let him replace his ball and tap it in. When they got to the eighteenth green, Elliott almost made a 15-footer for birdie, and made par. And Moe -- who had hit one of the most beautiful 7-irons I’ve ever seen -- had maybe an eight-footer for birdie. He doesn’t even look at it, but hits it way too hard, like six feet past the hole, and then he hits the next putt almost without stopping, and misses that one, too. And it was obvious to me that he had missed on purpose. He shook Elliott’s hand and walked straight into the parking lot. The whole thing was strange, but also kind of humorous, because to me Moe seemed funny when he was mad.
Elliott won $1,500, Norman $1,125. (One stroke back: John Mahaffey.) A week later, at the Alberta Open, Norman and Elliott tied for the lead and played together again, in the final round. That time, Norman birdied four consecutive holes on the final nine and won by three.
Olson and his dad spent a lot of time together on golf courses, and they won a father-son tournament conducted by the Oregon Golf Association when his dad was a super-senior. Olson continued:
Here are a few photos of Norman swinging, from 1987, courtesy of Tim O’Connor and Todd “Little Moe” Graves, who have just published The Single Plane Golf Swing: Play Better Golf the Moe Norman Way. (The autograph at the bottom is from my copy of an earlier book of O'Connor's, a biography of Norman called The Feeling of Greatness.) Graves teaches Norman’s swing at his own school, the Graves Golf Academy. I’ve played several rounds with him, and I once played a round with both him and Norman, and I wish I could strike the ball one tenth as well as either of them. Make that one hundredth.
I have won four club championships and my lowest score ever on a par-72 course is 65, but I have never been and never will be one tenth as good as my dad was. He was just an outstanding player. The only rotten thing is that he had horrible arthritis in his fingers, wrists, and hands. And he didn't have it just when he was old; it started when he was in his forties. He still managed to play good, though. I caddied for him all the time -- Carson Herron, the father of Tim Herron, was a member of his regular foursome -- and he never ceased to amaze me.
Earlier this month, PGA Tour caddies filed a $50 million class-action lawsuit against the tour. And what happened on Saturday at the Honda Classic certainly isn't going to make that go away.
As severe thunderstorms hit PGA National, play was suspended -- and ultimately, postponed -- sending players and fans to seek shelter. But while players huddled in the clubhouse, caddies, who aren't given clubhouse access during PGA Tour events, had to take cover in a metal shed on the course. Here's a tweet from Robert Streb's caddie, Steve Catlan:
Later, Scott Vail, who works for Brandt Snedeker, offered his take:
Sadly it will take a caddie to get struck by lightning and dying before the PGA tour realizes that we need indoor shelter during storms.— sv (@thescottvail) February 28, 2015
Luke Donald chimed in on Twitter as well:
@RobertLusetich the caddies are currently in a steel box with lightning around, considering a second lawsuit!!— Luke Donald (@LukeDonald) February 28, 2015
In the suit, more than 80 caddies said they want a share of the money the tour makes off them wearing sponsor bibs during tournaments. They also listed a series of grievances, including that they "have been treated as second-class participants of the game."
If the suit goes to court, Saturday's metal shed could wind up being Exhibit A of that.
PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- The Padraig Harrington who won three major championships in a span of six contested about 100 years ago has reemerged at the Honda Classic, still unsure and a bit unsteady, but possessing a growing sureness that his relative steadiness can be sustained.
Brilliant for 27 holes on the caustic Champion Course at PGA National, Harrington struggled over his inward nine and bogeyed his final two holes. Still, he completed a 4-under-par 66 Saturday to lead resourceful youngster Patrick Reed with a 7-under 133 total midway through a rain-plagued tournament destined for a Monday finish.
Harrington, 43, hasn't held a 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour since the 2010 Valspar Championship. More significantly, he hasn't led after 72 holes since his victory in the 2008 PGA Championship. Granted, he did capture the Asian Tour's BRI Indonesian Open in December, a $750,000 tournament where he was the headliner, even though he wasn't ranked in the top 300 in the Official World Golf Ranking at the time.
A win is a win, and all, but Harrington will be the first to tell you that leading a PGA Tour event, especially one played on an abrasive layout that dispensed harsh justice to a number of top players, requires a greater level of proficiency.
"It's nice to be in contention. I'm very positive about my game coming in here this week," said Harrington, who has missed five of eight cuts this year and needed a sponsor exemption to get into an event he won in 2005. "I don't know what's going to happen the next 36 holes, but I have a good idea where I'm going."
That in itself is a victory for the reflective Irishman.
For all those mystified by the recent struggles of Tiger Woods, Harrington perhaps serves as a relevant case study in a dominant game being compromised by psychological corrosion.
In the simplest terms, Harrington has struggled to put aside the fact that he's Padraig Harrington. He constantly fights the tendency to get too immersed in results rather than focus on the process of hitting good and proper shots. He tries too hard to not try too hard.
Many players refer to this as getting in their own way.
Without a top-10 finish since the 2013 FedEx St. Jude Classic, Harrington has been virtually tripping over himself. He might as well just tie his own shoelaces together.
It hasn't helped that he has tinkered with his swing endlessly in the last seven years. Sound familiar?
"My big problem is really trying to control the outcome and not settling for the process being enough," he said. "Ultimately, I have found out that is the biggest hindrance to my game. My mind out there was better than it's ever been. It was ugly at the end there. I found it for a while, though."
Offering him solace is that he found it in Indonesia, too. After blowing a four-stroke lead through 54-holes, Harrington sank a 15-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to beat Thanyakon Khrongpha of Thailand by two shots. It was his first win since the 2010 Johor Open, also on the Asian Tour.
The win came out of nowhere. Or so it seemed.
"When you go across to Asia, you're staying in the Presidential Suite. You've got a chauffer and a police escort for the week. You're treated like a star and you play like a star," he said with relish. "They bring you in there and your picture is all over the billboards and advertisements, and you have to deliver. It's got to have an effect on the ego.
"When I go to Asia, I'm back to being a three-time major winner. You get built up and you sometimes play like that. Here it's a different feeling."
Ranked 297th in the world, Harrington feels almost invisible in America. Part of that is due to his European heritage. Another part can be attributed to his precipitous decline in performance. And then there's human nature; people are predictably drawn to bright young talents like Brooks Koepka or Jordan Spieth instead of a married father of two children predisposed to disquietude.
Take his play on Saturday. He was comfortable until making the turn and then some old swing faults began to creep back in. He made four birdies on his last nine, sure, but he hit only two fairways and that caught up to him with soft bogeys on his last two holes.
"That was disappointing. But you can't have everything go your way all the time," said the man who hasn't had much go his way in years.
Golf's demons never rest. It takes enormous visceral vigor to fend them off. There isn't a golfer in history who hasn't eventually succumbed to them, and it's easy to surrender to them once they have displaced a player's preternatural confidence.
But good players find a way to rebound, rebuild, and then recapture their edge. Woods, after his personal tribulations in late 2009, won five times in 2013 and claimed another PGA Tour Player of the Year honor. Now he's in the midst of another reclamation project.
Harrington, Player of the Year in 2008, would admit that his play in this week's weather-plagued tournament is merely an overture towards better days. He said he feels like it's coming, but one can never be sure either.
Dancing on a razor's edge leaves some deep cuts. When the third round restarts at 10 a.m. EST Sunday, Harrington will quickly find out how sure his footing remains.
"We're on the right path," he said, trying to sound confident, but letting doubt sneak in just the same. "It's just a question of, can I do it? As you get older, you lose a bit of your innocence. I have always been a person who probably tries a bit too hard. There's no doubt on the mental side I've been trying ever so hard. It's hard to ease off. I did find some peace this week. Even if it was only for a bit of time I did find some peace."
And a piece of himself, too.