2002: A potpourri of simmering opinions. . .

If anybody had asked me, I would have told them that:

Phil Mickelson has his wires crossed. He uses his heart when he should use his head. And, to a lesser extent, he uses his head when he should use his heart. The opinion here is that he needs to go radically out-of-the-box. Like maybe to cross-handed putting. He needs to change something just for the sake of change. Maybe more than anything, he needs to admit to himself that on his very best day on the course, he isn’t going to be as good as Tiger Woods is on his very best day on the course.

What good will that do?

As an underdog in his own mind, Mickelson will be much more dangerous against Woods than he is dealing from a position of denial. There’s no shame in coming to grips with the fact that Woods is clearly the best player in the world. That fact alone doesn’t make Woods unbeatable.

Finally, if he attains this mindset, Mickelson will be more likely to allow that elusive first major to “win him” rather than feel the pressure of having to “force” it.

My favorite one-line assessment of Woods’ drama-less victory at Augusta came from Paul Kimmage in the Irish Independent. “The world,” Kimmage wrote, “hasn’t witnessed a dominance so repulsive since Lance Armstrong turned Alpe d’Heuz into a humped-back bridge.”

Our “skilled player” expert, Mike Malaska, is not an apostate. And anybody in golf’s teaching profession who thinks Golfweek Preferred and Malaska are trying to renounce proven teaching methods or instructors is mistaken. Malaska repeatedly acknowledges that “there is a lot of good information out there.” His point is that all information about the golf swing doesn’t apply to all people because of physical and functional differences from player to player. Any good teaching pro knows that. And any teaching pro who does not know that is not a “good” teaching pro.

One of the oddest but most valuable reference books in golf is “The World of Professional Golf,” updated and published annually by IMG Publishing. That’s IMG as in International Management Group and Mark H. McCormack, the 900-ton gorilla who founded IMG and still controls it.

The odd part of this exhaustive 722-page tome is that there is no recognition anywhere in it of anybody who wrote any of the tens of thousands of words that comprise the text. But if you want to know results in 2001 from dozens of professional golf tours worldwide, you will find them in this book.

It is impossible to underestimate how much IMG underpins and underwrites professional golf worldwide. Its stable of players is large and luminous. Almost all of those players have done well by the company.

But IMG didn’t reach its place of power in the golf world without rubbing a few noses in the dirt. Which is part of the reason why it is equally impossible to underestimate the arrogance of several IMG pit bulls who serve as agents to IMG players/clients. Mark Steinberg (Tiger Woods) and former IMG regular Charley Moore (David Duval) are good guys and exceptions. But too many of their IMG colleagues have developed an off-putting self-importance that has nothing to do with the charm and/or brains McCormack used to build the company.

There is a new book out on Karrie Webb. In it, author Charles Happell describes the ultra-private Webb as being very different from her public persona. “Beneath that calm and measured exterior,” Happell writes, “lurks an adrenaline junkie who thrives on speed and daredevilry.” Of particular interest to Webb is a love of fast cars.

My questions are these: Is there a good reason why we have to wait for a book to come out to know this about one of the world’s top two female players? Is it an invasion of Webb’s privacy to want to know these interesting but relatively innocuous bits of information about her?

My answers, in order, are: “I think not” and “no.”

Finally, on the Grand Slam: Woods’ biggest advantage at brawny Bethpage Black for the U.S. Open will be his physical fitness. His edge at Muirfield for the British will be his ability to properly “flight” the ball in capricious wind conditions. The toughest of the four majors for him to win this year will be the PGA Championship at sometimes-quirky Hazeltine in Minnesota. It also will be the toughest ticket in the history of golf if Woods arrives at the event with the first three majors of 2002 already in his possession.

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