By Ron Sirak
NASSAU, The Bahamas -- As Lizette Salas approached the 18th green in her Solheim Cup singles match against Suzann Pettersen last August at Colorado GC, her parents, Ramon and Martha, struggled with their emotions as they watched with other family members of the U.S. team.
"You can't imagine what a big deal this is for us, two Mexican immigrants, to see our daughter play for the United States," Martha said. "We are so proud of how well she represents us, our new country and our homeland."
Salas, 24, started her third year on the LPGA this week at the PureSilk Bahamas LPGA Classic, where her second-round 67 in windy weather on The Ocean Club Paradise Island left her at seven under par going to the weekend.
Related: LPGA stats and scores
Her great score amid the breezy conditions came despite playing far less than 100 percent.
"I woke up in tears," she said. "I had flu symptoms, a high fever. I wasn't sure I was going to be able to play. But I'd rather be on the course than in bed crying, feeling sorry for myself."
Her solid round was thanks to a hot putter that included a momentum saving 20-footer for par on No. 16, the hardest hole on the course, and an up-and-down for par from a bunker on No. 17.
"The wind helped me stay cool," said Salas, who finished feeling better but still slightly feverish. "I like using my imagination on the golf course, so playing in the wind challenges me in a way that I like."
Salas' career in golf has been all about challenges, each and every one of which she has conquered. She moved from No. 51 on the 2012 money list to No. 15 last year. Her best finish in a major was sixth in the 2013 Ricoh Women's British Open on the Old Course at St. Andrews.
What she isn't doing is moving away from her humble roots, where challenge came in daily doses.
Ramon Salas has been a mechanic at Azuza Greens public golf course in Azuza, near Los Angeles, for more than 30 years, and at one point bartered extra work to get golf lessons for his three children. Now, every Tuesday that she is home, Lizette teaches youngsters at Azuza Greens.
"I felt like a weird flower out on the golf course," Lizette says on her website about when she first started playing tournament golf.
"At first, it was really intimidating because I was the only Latina," she says. "My parents helped me through that. I'm from a city that is predominately Hispanic. I want to be a positive role model for the girls in my community and change the stereotypes placed on Hispanics."
And that she is doing. Lizette used golf to earn a scholarship to Southern California, where she became the school's only four-time All-American in any sport, male or female. She also became the first person in her immediate family to graduate college, earning a degree in sociology in 2011.
Now, the 5-foot-4 fireplug who loves Latin dancing is emerging as one of the better players in women's golf, and certainly one of the most-compelling stories.
"I was feeling it and I was rolling it out there today," Salas said with a sly smile after her Friday round that seemed to say, "I just gave you a money quote, be sure to use it."
Lizette comes from outside the golf cookie cutter in just about every way. In that way, she is reminiscent of Lee Trevino and Nancy Lopez, two Hall of Famers also with Mexican roots. Whether or not Salas achieves that greatness, she has already been a great role model for her community.
By Ron Sirak
LA QUINTA, Calif. -- If Patrick Reed were any more grounded he'd have dirt growing over his feet. Ask the 23-year-old Spring, Texas, resident his favorite quote and he'll give you a line by his wife, Justine: "Nerves just mean you're prepared."
Ask him to identify his favorite golf memory and he doesn't give up his only PGA Tour victory at last year's Wyndham Championship, when he defeated Jordan Spieth with a birdie on the second playoff hole, but rather the 6-0 record he had in match play in leading Augusta State University to two NCAA championship.
And when prompted to comment on his back-to-back 63s that gave him a two-stroke lead going into the weekend at the Humana Challenge, Reed reaches back to the mindset that helped him Monday qualify for six PGA Tour events.
"It's pretty easy to get into that Monday qualifying mindset, due to the fact that you're playing three different courses," Reed said in advance of his Saturday third round on the Nicklaus Private course.
"The first day it's like, all right, well, let's see how we do against the guys on my course today there, try to go beat them," he said after making 17 birdies, an eagle and one bogey through 36 holes. "And the same thing every day. You can't really judge yourself off everybody until everyone has played all of the same courses."
One of the more memorable moments in golf from 2013 was the touching sight of Reed wining the Wyndham with Justine at his side, lugging around his golf bag. That's not the case this week since she's due to give birth around Memorial Day.
"[On Saturday] we're going to go with the same game plan," Reed said, "try to hit some fairways, hit some greens, and see what the putter can do."
In fact, the format of the Humana does seem to play perfectly in the mindset of Mr. Monday Qualifier. Not only do they play three different courses, before finishing on the Palmer Private on Sunday, but all three -- the Palmer and Nicklaus along with La Quinta CC -- yield a ton of birdies. You have to play aggressive golf.
"The good thing is even though we are playing great, I feel like there is still room for improvement out there while I was playing," Reed said. "[On Friday], I felt like there was three shots [I left] out there, [and Thursday] I thought there was one or two out there."
Reed says he is playing with a higher confidence level this year, in part because he feels totally in tune with his new Callaway clubs and because of the work he has done with his swing coach Kevin Hart as well as with Stuart Leong of shotstohole.com.
"With my group, my team that we worked with in the off-season, it's showing, it's showing the improvements we have made," says Reed.
No matter what the outcome, Justine won't be carrying his bag when he walks up the final fairway. But her words about being nervous likely will be rattling in his head. It's all part of how prepared Reed as made himself to compete on the PGA Tour.
By Ron Sirak
LA QUINTA, Calif. - When it comes to building a brand, fan-friendly Rickie Fowler is among the best on the PGA Tour. His long hair, bold use of color in his clothing and willingness to endlessly sign autographs has made him an inspiration for junior golfers, who are hard to miss in tour galleries as they display their loyalty by wearing the same bright colors and Fowler's trademark flat-brim Puma hats.
All Fowler needs now is to win more.
The 25-year-old matinee idol who grew up in Murrieta, less than an hour from here, before attending Oklahoma State, returned to the desert to begin 2014 at the Humana Challenge. And he comes home with a new attitude that's as strident as his fashion choices.
"I have one tour win, but I definitely don't want to be remembered as a one-time winner," Fowler said after an opening 68 Thursday at La Quinta CC, one of the three courses upon which the Humana is played.
"So we'll see what we can do here," Fowler said after a four-under-par round that was outside the top-30 and, in this birdie-fest, pretty much amounts to an even-par effort. "We got a few good starts here on the West Coast, and we would like to get one [win] close to home."
As part of his renewed commitment to be more than just another pretty face, Fowler has started working with swing coach Butch Harmon on what Rickie says are "no major changes, just taking what I have and cleaning it up, making it consistent and more repeatable."
Fowler says the essence of the effort is to get started in the right takeaway position and to shorten his backswing a bit. "My tendency," he says, "is to get a little long and the club gets stuck behind me."
While winning more than $10 million since turning pro in 2009 and banking millions more in endorsement and appearance money (he was No. 35 on the 2014 Golf Digest 50 all-encompassing money list), Fowler has had just that one victory (the 2012 Wells Fargo Championship) and 23 top-10 finishes in 107 PGA Tour starts.
When he talks about goals, Fowler mentions contending in the majors, where his best finish is T-5 in the 2011 British Open, and returning to the Ryder Cup, where he played in 2010.
As perhaps a sign of his new relationship with Harmon, Fowler, who now lives in Jupiter, Fla., is staying at the exclusive Madison Club this week. That's where another notable Harmon client -- Phil Mickelson -- stayed when he played the Humana last year.
At a very tender age, but as a relative veteran on tour, Fowler seems determined to hit the reset button on his career and, as Harmon says, "be known more for his golf than his clothes."
That will give all those kids in his gallery something to cheer about.
By Ron Sirak
In the depths of the Great Recession, when the LPGA schedule dipped to 23 events, veteran tour pro Janice Moodie memorably noted: "I now have a part-time job." And she was correct.
Now, not only has commissioner Mike Whan gotten the schedule back to 32 tournaments for 2014, he's adding the Race to the CME Globe, a year-long points race formally announced Jan. 7 that will bring a $1 million bonus to the top player after the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.
The top 72 players on the Race to the CME Globe points list will qualify for November's Tour Championship plus anyone who has won an LPGA event in 2014. Only LPGA members, however, are eligible for the $1 million bonus, a significant sum considering the leading money winner in 2013, Inbee Park, earned $2.5 million.
The Race bonus will be unofficial money. Anyone who makes a cut in a full-field event gets points; 500 for the winner of a regular tournament, 625 for a major victory. The top 40 in limited-field events get points as do the top 20 at the Lorena Ochoa tournament, which at 36 entrants is the smallest field of the year. Majors are worth 25 percent more points overall.
The top three players in the points race will control their own destiny at the Tour Championship -- win it and you get the $1 million bonus. Only the top nine entering the event at the Tiburon GC in Naples, Fla., will have a chance to win the $1 million. Bonuses will also be paid to the second-place ($150,000) and third-place finishers ($100,000) on the points list.
It's possible, according to Whan, that the $1 million first prize could be decided in a sudden-death playoff after the Tour Championship has concluded. "We wanted to make our season-ending event even more fun and more dramatic," Whan said. "The points will be reset but not to zero. There is no doubt season leaders will have a significant advantage, but they won't have it locked up."
The Wounded Warrior Project, which assists injured service members and their families, is expected to receive up to $250,000 from the season race, with CME Group donating $1,000 for each eagle during the season and $5,000 for each eagle at the Tour Championship. The points race starts with the season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Jan. 23-26.
[Photo: Getty Images]
How is Earl Woods Jr. related to Tiger Woods?
By Ron Sirak
The first time I met Bev Norwood was in the bar of the Comfort Inn at Jacksonville Beach, Fla., the week of the Players Championship in 1988. Bob Green, who was then the golf writer for The Associated Press, a job I later held, introduced me to him.
The first words Bev ever said to me were: "I was named after four cities in Massachusetts. Beverly. Norwood. Marblehead. And Athol."
So began a friendship that impacted my life in immeasurable ways. Bev was, as a colleague of mine once said, like a mid-level CIA agent no one paid much attention to who had crucial information pass across his desk. He knew it all.
Bev Norwood, standing left, making his media center rounds.
For nearly 40 years, Norwood worked for International Management Group, IMG, the group founded by Mark McCormack on a handshake with Arnold Palmer more than 50 years ago.
Mark died in 2003 and 10 years later -- at 9:38 p.m. on Sept. 4, 2013 -- Bev Norwood left us as well.
If Dan Jenkins were to create a character for one of his novels to play the role of a publicist for professional golfers and golf tournaments, it would be Bev. It fact, Bev did appear in a couple of Dan's novels under the name "Smoky Barwood."
What an appropriate name. For many years, until very recently, Bev smoked non-stop. And his fondness for Budweiser and red wine was legendary. As was his love of the Cleveland Indians, his adoptive home, and all things North Carolina, the state of his birth.
For the 15 years I have worked for Golf World, one of my most treasured experiences has been having dinner almost every night the week of major championships with Bev, Dan Jenkins and occasionally Dan's daughter Sally. It was at the 2003 PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester where, after about our fifth dinner together, Bev christened our gathering as the law firm of Jenkins Jenkins Norwood and Sirak.
To this day, when Dan sends me an email it begins "Yo Firmer..." and is signed "Senior Firmer."
No one has ever appeared in my stories more often than Bev, although I think I am accurate in saying I never once typed his name. He was such a good source of information I never wanted to even give a hint where my information was coming from.
One of the games those in our business -- and Bev's business -- play is to exchange information without compromising the integrity of our professions. And Bev never divulged any information that hurt IMG. Sadly, there are few doing the work Bev did out there today who understand how to tread that line. Mostly, they live in fear and follow the playbook right off the cliff's edge. Bev knew how to call an audible. He understood the art of the leak and how it benefitted all parties.
Part of why Bev "got it" was that he started out as a reporter in Winston-Salem, N.C., after graduation from Wake Forest. He could claim as friends Arnold Palmer, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange and other legends of the game.
You will hear all of them weigh in on Bev's passing over the next few days. I had dinner with Bev this year in Orlando at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a few times at the Masters and we met every night at the bar at the media hotel for the U.S. Open at Merion.
Bev was having back pain that week and several of us urged him to have it checked out. When he did not show up at the British Open -- an event he had attended for more than 30 years -- I knew it was not good.
During the PGA Championship at Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., Jenkins called Bev and found out that he had cancer of the bone in his hip as well as tumors in his kidney and lungs.
Always a frail man, the end came quickly and, I suppose, mercifully not as painfully as it could have been.
Bev Norwood was not without his flaws. But that can be said about all of us. Bev was a good man and the best company you could want to have in a bar and the absolute best to do business with. He was an honest man.
My lasting memory of Bev will be this: He walks over to my seat in the media center with a whimsical smile creasing his lips. As he tries to get the words out his shoulders bob up and down as he tries unsuccessfully to suppress a laugh.
And then he tells me something absolutely valuable to what I am working on or, leads me in a direction that was not in my wildest imagination.
When Bev went into the Intensive Care Unit of the Cleveland Clinic I wanted to call him and have one last chat. But he couldn't take calls, mostly living his days under heavy sedation.
I wanted to thank him for all he had done for me over the years.
I wanted to tell him how of all the publicists I have ever worked with, he got it. He knew how to navigate the two-way street of information and confidentiality.
Few doing it now have that depth of experience and subtly of understanding. Few have a background in journalism, like Bev did, and know what we need and understand that building trust serves all the stakeholders of the game.
Bev did not learn how to be a PR guy in in school -- he learned it in life. Every year, on Tuesday at the Masters, Bev and Dan Jenkins would meet to toast the late Dave Marr, a great player and great TV commentator. I was a newcomer to that party, and I was honored that Dan and Bev included me.
Next April, Dan and I and whomever else wants to come along will lift a glass to Dave Marr in Augusta -- and to Bev Norwood.
Mostly, I wanted to call Bev and tell him that I loved him, and he is probably glad I never got to say words that would surely embarrass him.
He would have laughed, those shoulders bobbing, and said something bitingly obscene to me. Then we both would have laughed.
Of all the great information Bev gave me over the years, the laughs are what I will remember - and miss -- the most.
Goodbye, my friend. We will tell stories about you -- and laugh -- as long as we are able.
By Ron Sirak
NORTON, Mass. -- The clubface no sooner made contact with the golf ball than Phil Mickelson uttered a rather mournful, "Oh no, sit!" No dice. Cart path. Wicked bounce. Hazard.
But this is Phil the Thrill we are talking about. Of course he would find his ball and of course he would shun easy answers and decide to play out of the hazard.
What resulted was an all-world bogey -- he actually had about a 30-foot run at par -- to finish off an eight-under-par 63 in the first round the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Tiger Woods watches Phil Mickelson tees off at the tenth hole during the first round of the Deutsche Bank Championship. Photo: Stan Badz
There is something about the way Mickelson lumbers around the golf course that makes you want to say, "Hey, ya big galoot, how the heck ya doin'?"
That answer right now would seem to be, "Just fine, thank you."
Lefty, who flew home from New Jersey to California on Sunday night to be there for his daughter Amanda's first day of high school then flew back to Massachusetts on Wednesday night, was in full Phil mode Friday at TPC Boston.
Playing with Tiger Woods and Adam Scott, Mickelson played the back nine first and started birdie-birdie, made a pair of ho-hum pars then closed with five birdies in a row for a tasty 28 going out.
He bogeyed this tenth hole -- No. 1 -- from the greenside bunker, missing a seven-footer, knocked his second shot to 18 inches on the par-5 second hole for eagle to get to eight under par and the 59 watch was on -- he needed 12 under for that magic number.
But five pars in a row ended that dream, a birdie on No. 8 got him to nine under and the bogey at the last returned him to eight and the 63, which was good enough for the first-round lead.
"I didn't hit shots exceedingly close, other than that eagle on 2," Mickelson said. "But what I did is make a lot of 12- to 20-foot putts, the ones that you need to make to get a really hot round."
And "really hot" seems to be the way to describe Mickelson right now. He closed The Barclays last week with a six-under par 65, after a 70 in Saturday's third round, to finish T-6.
In his last two rounds -- Sunday at Barclays and Friday here -- Mickelson has made 15 birdies and an eagle.
"I felt like Saturday is when it started to click," Lefty said. "I had a good feeling that I as going to have a low round on Sunday. And I felt very confident that I was going to have a good week here."
That confidence probably spiked a little bit when he saw his pairing for the first two rounds here. Quite frankly, and even Mickelson will admit this, after more than 20 years on tour he struggles at times with focus and concentration.
But there are two things that get Phil's full attention: Winning major championships, as he did last month at the British Open, capturing the claret jug at Muirfield, and beating Tiger Woods.
Asked after his 63 dusted the 68 put up by Tiger if playing with Woods still brings out the best in him, Phil said: "After today it's hard to think any differently."
Using his Phrankenwood -- a smallish, old-timey looking wood with extra loft -- as his driver, Mickelson hit 11 of 14 fairways and converted that into 14 of 18 greens, then needed only 25 putts.
The only really bad swing was that one on No. 9, his last hole, which was a pull-hook into the right hazard.
"You know, I just mentally went blank for a swing," was Mickelson's typically honest explanation of the wayward drive on the last hole. "It happens. And I just try to forget it. It only cost me one shot."
This is a pretty good time for Mickelson to kick his game into high gear. There are a few things he has never accomplished in his remarkable career that are within reach.
Phil has never led the PGA Tour money list.
He has never been PGA Tour Player of the Year.
Nor has he won the FedEx Cup or been No. 1 in the World Ranking.
All but the last are possible with three more big events to play -- two FedEx Cup playoff events and the season-finale Tour Championship.
"It's something I'd like to capture," Mickelson said about the FedEx Cup. "And I just want to play well these next three weeks because I feel like if I can add a win or two I have a realistic chance at Player of the Year."
The good news for Mickelson is that he has the same pairing in Saturday's second round at 1:10 p.m. as he did in the first -- Scott and Woods, the two guys he trails in the FedEx Cup standings.
And while Tiger pushes Phil into a higher gear, Woods was a bit cranky after his opening-round 68 -- or at least abrupt.
"The back is fine, all good," he replied when asked about the injury for which he says he's been treated "two or three times a day" since he tweaked it over the weekend at the Barclays.
"It was decent today," he said. "I didn't hit it as well as I'd like to."
The best indication that Woods' back is better? Asked if he was going to practice after his round, Tiger replied: "Going right now."
Earlier he had said it was "day to day" as to whether the back issues would interfere with his practice routine.
"Not a lot going on for me," Tiger said about his scoring opportunities, "but Phil was getting everything."
Now, I'm not exactly sure what that means, but I am betting that when Mickelson reads those words he will find a slight in there somewhere and use it for a bit of motivation.
On Friday, Mickelson shot 63 while paired with his human 5-Hour Energy Drink. Maybe playing with Tiger again on Saturday will motivate him enough to take control of this tournament and bring the FedEx Cup in sight.
Hey, it ain't a major, but Lefty is playing with Woods. And that seems to be motivation enough.