INSIDE THE ROPES
By TOM LaMARRE
The Sports Xchange
Vijay Singh was never going to fade quietly away to the Champions Tour.
The Big Fijian turns 50 next February and will be eligible for the senior circuit, but after being slowed the last few years by injuries, he’s only thinking about extending his already remarkable PGA Tour career.
“I’m playing as good as anybody out here, so if I can keep doing this and if the desire is still there and fire is still there, I’m going to keep playing here,” said Singh, who has a record 23 victories after the age of 40.
“I think if I lose the edge over here, I don’t know if I’m going to even go and play the Champions Tour. But I feel good about myself, my health, my strength and my golf game. As long as all of them act normally, I think I’ll be OK.”
Singh’s name has popped up on some important leaderboards lately. He tied for ninth in the Open Championship at Royal Lytham & St. Annes and tied for seventh in the RBC Canadian Open.
He also was among the leaders in the PGA Championship and the Barclays for two rounds before fading on the weekend.
By tying for 26th last week in the Deutsche Bank Championship, he remained in the top 70 in the FedEx Cup standings, climbing 10 spots to 49th, which put him in the field for the BMW Championship this week at Crooked Stick.
Singh was outside the top 70 when he started with a 2-over-par 73 last week at TPC Boston, but he rallied by shooting 69-68-69 in the last three rounds to reach the third round of the playoffs.
That also kept alive his outside chance to win the FedEx Cup, which he did in 2008.
Singh needs a high finish this week in the BMW to climb at least 19 spots into the top 30 in the FedEx Cup standings and advance to the Tour Championship, which he won in 2002.
The way he’s feeling and with the point jumps that can be made in the playoffs, there’s no reason to think he can’t do it.
“I feel a lot of confidence in me,” said Singh, who claimed the last of his 34 PGA Tour victories at the 2008 Deutsche Bank Championship. “It’s just I need to get some kind of momentum to keep me going. I thought I had it at the PGA (Championship), but I kind of let it slip there on Sunday.
“I think I’m playing as good as I did in any part of my career. I’m hitting the ball as long. I’m hitting the ball straighter. … I’m literally pain-free.
“I just started believing that I can do it (again). I was so negative for a long, long time. I had great sessions on the driving range and just couldn’t take it on the golf course. A little tweak to my golf swing during the British Open kind of helped. My head is in a better spot.”
Others have taken notice.
Said Phil Mickelson at the PGA: “He’s a tremendous ball striker. He hits the ball extremely solid and penetrates right through the air and he’s done that his whole career. … When he gets hot with the putter, he can reel off a number of wins.”
Singh did that in 2004, when he claimed nine victories on the PGA Tour, including the last of his three major titles at the PGA Championship, and unseated Tiger Woods atop the World Golf Rankings.
In 2008, with Woods sidelined following knee surgery, Singh captured the FedEx Cup, ending any drama quickly by capturing the first two events of the PGA Tour playoffs, the Barclays and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
Then countless hours of pounding balls on the range caught up with him.
“It started with my knee in ’08, and I had two surgeries on my knee, and then my back kind of started acting up straight after that,” said Singh, universally considered the hardest worker in the game.
“That’s been a two-year process. I do feel it in the mornings when I get up. I have to be very careful how I jump out of bed. But so far it’s been good.”
However, old habits die hard. Even though he is more careful with his routine, Singh still gets in plenty of work almost every day.
“I don’t hit as many balls anymore because I’m pretty sound with my golf swing, what I need to do,” said Singh, who missed the Tour Championship in 2009 and 2010 but was back in Atlanta last year and tied for 16th. “I have a set routine that I go through, and if everything is in place, I just keep going.
“I’m putting a lot more. I think I spend a lot more time on the putting green than I’ve ever done. … I should have done this a long time ago. My short game is good. I am working a lot more on my short game than I’ve ever done.
“I try to get four hours of practice session, yeah. That includes gym, hour and a half, pretty much every other day or every day, if I’m not hurting. … I’m practicing, yeah. I’m not slowing down.”
The man simply does not want to act his age.
PGA TOUR: BMW Championship at Crooked Stick Golf Club in Carmel, Ind., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 3-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel; Saturday, 10 a.m.-noon on the Golf Channel, noon-3:30 EDT on NBC and 3:30-6 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel, Sunday, 12-2 p.m. EDT on the Golf Channel and 2-6 p.m. EDT on NBC.
LAST YEAR: Justin Rose squandered most of a five-stroke lead on the back nine Sunday but chipped in for birdie on the 17th hole to claim a two-stroke victory over John Senden of Australia on the Dubsdread Course at Cog Hill Golf Club in Lemont, Ill. Rose, who led virtually all the way after opening with an 8-under-par 63, claimed his third PGA Tour victory; earlier in the year, he captured the biggest title of his career at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The BMW will be played this time at Crooked Stick, where John Daly captured the 1991 PGA Championship.
CHAMPIONS TOUR: Pacific Links Hawaii Championship at Kapolei Golf Course in Kapolei, Oahu, Hawaii, Sept. 14-16.
TV: Friday through Sunday, 7:30-10 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Inaugural event.
LPGA TOUR: Kingsmill Championship at the Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Va., Thursday through Sunday.
TV: Thursday and Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m. EDT; Saturday, noon-3:30 p.m. EDT, and Sunday, 2-5 p.m. EDT, on the Golf Channel each day.
LAST YEAR: Inaugural event.
–Captain Liselotte Neumann has selected Annika Sorenstam and Carin Koch as her two vice captains, giving the Europeans an all-Swedish staff for the 2013 Solheim Cup matches against the United States at Colorado Golf Club in Parker, Colo.
The competition is scheduled for Aug. 13-18.
“I am extremely pleased to announce that Annika and Carin will be my vice captains,” said Neumann, who played in six Solheim Cups from 1990 to 2000. “Their passion for the game of golf and experience as past Solheim Cup players will prove invaluable as we work together to defend the Cup and win on U.S. soil for the first time.”
Sorenstam was asked to be the captain of this team by the Ladies European Tour but turned down the chance because of her busy schedule and suggested that Neumann should have the honor instead.
The former No. 1-ranked woman golfer in the world, whose 90 career victories included 10 major titles, played in the Solheim Cup eight times from 1994 to 2007, earning 24 points in 37 matches.
“Lotta has been a friend of mine for nearly 20 years and actually inspired me to follow my dreams when she broke through and won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1988,” said Sorenstam, who was a vice captain for Alison Nicholas of Scotland when the Europeans won last year at Killeen Castle in Ireland.
“I have always respected her class and demeanor, and I know she will be a great leader for Team Europe. Next year’s Solheim Cup in Colorado is very important for Europe, as we need to keep the momentum going after winning the Cup last year in Ireland.”
Neumann and Sorenstam teamed to claim the 2006 Women’s World Cup of Golf for Sweden.
Koch holed the winning putt for the European team in the 2000 Solheim Cup at Loch Lomond and was also on Europe’s winning team in 2003. She played in four Solheim Cups in succession from 2000 to 2005 and won 11 1/2 points in 16 matches, going unbeaten in eight Solheim Cup matches in 2000 and 2002.
The U.S. holds an 8-4 lead in the series and never has lost on home soil.
–Padriag Harrington seemed to take it in stride when he got the phone call from Jose Maria Olazabal, who told the Irishman that he was not one of two Captain’s Picks for the European Ryder Cup team.
Harrington played in the last six Ryder Cups, but Olazabal went with Ian Poulter of England and Nicolas Colsaerts of Belgium instead when he announced the picks last week.
“Even the dogs in the street knew I wasn’t getting a pick, so it wasn’t a tough phone call for me to take in any way whatsoever,” said Harrington, a three-time major champion.
“If you don’t make it into the team automatically, you can’t have any regrets. You can’t second-guess not getting a pick if you don’t make it on merit.”
Harrington, who first played in the Ryder Cup at Brookline in 1999, made a strong run this year in a late effort to make the team, finishing eighth in the Masters, fourth in the U.S. Open and seventh in the Irish Open.
In his final tournament before the wild-card selections were made, Paddy led the Barclays with a first-round score of 7-under-par 64 but went 75-75 in the middle rounds before closing with a 68 to tie for 19th.
“The fact is Padraig didn’t even perform to his own standards,” said Olazabal, who phoned seven Europeans who failed to make the team. “My telephone call to Padraig was the hardest I had to make because he is a great champion.
“So I felt I needed to make that phone call more to him than to anyone else. But I have to say to Padraig’s credit he took it well. That’s my perception, anyway.”
Olazabal also added Miguel Angel Jimenez of Spain as one of his vice captains. Jimenez joins Paul McGinley of Ireland, Thomas Bjorn of Denmark and Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland on the staff.
The Ryder Cup is scheduled for Sept. 28-30 at Medinah.
–The Sunshine Tour, played in South Africa, has announced two new professional tournaments for its 2013 calendar, bringing to six the number of events it holds that are co-sanctioned by the European Tour.
That’s more than any country on the Euro Tour.
The Nelson Mandela Championship, which will be played Dec. 6-9, 2012 at a venue yet to be determined, will be the first event on the 2013 European Tour and will mark the start to the 2013 Race to Dubai.
The Tshwane Open will be played Feb. 28-March 3, 2013 at the Els Club Copperleaf near Pretoria.
“We’re hoping our top players like Ernie Els, Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace will support (these events),” said Selwyn Nathan, executive director of the Sunshine Tour.
“We have this opportunity now to continue the legacy of South African golf.”
The new events join the South African Open Championship, the Alfred Dunhill Championship, the Africa Open and the Joburg Open as European Tour events played in South Africa.
–As it turned out, Keegan Bradley made the most of his missed cut in the Barclays.
Bradley was scheduled to play host to a charity event at Woodstock Golf Club, near his childhood home of Bennington, Vt., so he made the drive from Long Island two days early.
“Unfortunately, I was here a couple days early, but it always seems like things kind of happen for a reason,” said the 2011 PGA champion. “I was able to come into town, drive around, hang out with my high school buddies, Ben and Dylan, and do the same stuff that we always did, sit around and do nothing, really. It was just great.”
The Keegan Bradley 2012 Charity Golf Classic at Woodstock Inn & Resort Golf Club was a benefit for the Vermont Disaster Relief Fund. The event was held on the one-year anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene hitting the area.
Bradley was happy to give back to the community where he grew up.
“The people of Woodstock and the country club here always believed in me more than anybody,” Bradley told reporters. “And that meant a lot to me personally. I don’t think they knew quite exactly what was coming in the long run, but they took such good care of me here.
“They didn’t owe me anything and they just let me come out here and play and work on my game, which is what a lot of clubs should learn from, what they did for me here at Woodstock.”
His aunt, Pat Bradley, a member of the World Golf Hall of Fame, and his father, Mark Bradley, head pro at Jackson Hole Golf and Tennis Club in Wyoming, also were on hand for the charity event.
The Vermont Disaster Relief Fund said it expected to raise between $75,000 and $100,000 from golf fees, sponsorships, and a raffle, according to Vermont Public Radio.
–Retief Goosen underwent back surgery on Aug. 23, ending his 2012 season, he announced at retiefgoosen.com.
The two-time U.S. Open champion from South Africa has not played since he finished in a tie for 48th in the PGA Championship on the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island.
“I just wanted to update you on my back injury that has caused me a few problems recently,” he wrote on the website. “I met with my spinal consultant again last week and we decided that the best treatment was for me to have back surgery this week.
“The operation has gone well and I will now stay in (the) hospital for a few days before recuperating at home.”
The Goose had only two top-10 finishes in 12 events on the PGA Tour this season, ties for 10th in the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco and in the RBC Canadian Open.
A disappointing 2011 season dropped him out of the top 50 in the World Golf Rankings and he missed the Masters for the first time since 1999, but now he is looking ahead.
“I am looking forward to returning to the Tour fully fit,” Goosen wrote. “In the meantime, I plan to put my feet up, enjoy watching the golf on TV and relish the opportunity to spend more time with (wife) Tracy and my children.”
–David Toms withdrew from the Deutsche Bank Championship last week and essentially dropped out of the PGA Tour playoffs.
Toms was ranked 89th in the FedEx Cup standings. Only the top 70 advanced to the third round of the playoffs next week, the BMW Championship, before the field is whittled to 30 for the Tour Championship.
No reason was given for the withdrawal, but Toms missed six weeks after tweaking his back in mid-June.
Toms returned for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and told reporters he had been seeing several specialists and receiving diagnoses on a back-hip problem that included torn labrum and a case of chronic bursitis.
He said that surgery was a possibility.
“I’ve had a couple different opinions on my MRI, so something I probably have to take care of in the offseason,” the 2001 PGA champion said.
Toms tied for eighth in the Bridgestone, but he tied for 42nd in the PGA Championship and missed the cut in the Wyndham Championship and the Barclays, the opener of the PGA Tour playoffs.
IN THE PUBLIC EYE: Pukalani Country Club in Pukalani, Maui, Hawaii.
THE LAYOUT: For local and visiting golfers on the island of Maui, Pukalani is a refreshing and delightful alternative to the mega-resort courses at Kapalua, Wailea, Kaanapali and Makena.
Designed by Bob Baldock and opened in 1979, Pukalani is perched at the 1,100-foot level on the rolling terrain of Mt. Haleakala, the largest dormant volcano in the world, in what the natives call Upcountry.
The course stretches to 6,962 yards from the championship tees over 160 acres on the slopes of the dormant volcano known as the “House of the Sun,” and plays to a par of 72, with a USGA rating of 72.8 and a slope of 128.
GENERAL MANAGER: Ron Huffman.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: Pukalani, which means “Hole in the Sky” or “Entrance to Heaven” in Hawaiian, is located about an hour’s drive below the Haleakala Crater and 21.6 miles from the Kahului Airport on Highway 37.
The picturesque course offers incredible panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and the rest of the Valley Isle, which actually is two islands joined by the lava flows from its towering volcanoes.
Pukalani is the only course on Maui with no bunkers, but the fairways are lined by Norfolk pines and the tradewinds come up almost every afternoon, so try to play before 11 a.m. unless you enjoy playing in a breeze.
The altitude and wind make it about five degrees cooler and less humid at Pukalani than in the coastal areas of Maui.
Hit the fairway off the tee and the ball sits up almost as if on a tee on the Kikuyu grass, like Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles, but that makes it dicey playing out of the rough and around the greens.
Perhaps the most unique hole at Pukalani is No. 3, a par 3 which plays 148 yards from an elevated tee across a ravine to one green, and 98 yards from the forward tee down to another green in a picturesque bowl.
In fact, all of the par 3s are remarkable, particularly No. 16, which plays 254 yards down the hill.
A creek runs down one side of the property, coming into play on four holes, and the course has one lake, shared by the 10th and 18th holes.
The finishing hole, which plays 401 yards uphill over the lake on the approach shot to the clubhouse and a green guarded by bunkers on three sides, is rated No. 2 on the card.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: In West Maui, the renowned Kapalua Resort hosts the PGA Tour’s season-opening Hyundai Tournament of Champions every year on the Plantation Course, and also offers the Village and Bay courses.
Five minutes down the Honoapi’ilani Highway is the Kaanapali Resort and its North and South courses, which were part of the Senior PGA Tour’s Kaanapali Classic for several years and hosts the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game.
Across Maui on the lower slopes of Mt. Haleakala are three magnificent resort courses at the Wailea Resort, where the Senior Skins Game was played for several years, and two more at Makena Golf Resort.
In between are several outstanding public layouts, including Kahili Golf Course in Waikapu, Silversword Golf Course in Kihei, Grand Waikapu Country Club in Wailuku and the Dunes at Mauna Lani, a links-style course in Kahului.
WHERE TO STAY: The exclusive Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, where most of the pros stay with their wives during the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, is the jewel of Kapalua, but you can get almost as much for less at its charming neighbor, the Kapalua Bay Hotel.
Other fine accommodations can be found at the Kapalua Ridge Villas, the Napili Bay Resort, Embassy Suites Resort, the Kapalua Golf Villas, the Sands of Kahana, the Aston Papakea and the Aston Paki Maui.
In Kaanapali are the venerable Royal Lahaina Resort, the Sheraton Maui, the Hyatt Regency Maui, the Kaanapali Beach Hotel and the Marriott Maui — not to mention countless condominiums.
In South Maui, you can choose from the Maui Prince Hotel, Grand Wailea Resort, the Four Seasons Resort, the Outrigger Wailea Resort, the Fairmont Kea Lani Maui and Renaissance Wailea Beach Resort.
ON THE WEB: www.pukalanigolf.com.
THE LAST RESORT: Turtle Bay Resort in Kahuku, Oahu, Hawaii.
THE LAYOUT: For several years, Turtle Bay was the only resort in Hawaii to host two spots on what is known as the Aloha Tour, but its courses have been left to the tourists because Champions Tour and LPGA Tour events that were held there lost their sponsors.
The resort offers two challenging courses — the George Fazio Course, which opened in 1971 and hosted the first Senior Skins Game in 1988, and the Arnold Palmer Course, which opened in 1992.
While both courses offer exceptional golf experiences, there’s no question that the Palmer is the preferred layout, although the Fazio is exactly what is was intended to be when it opened — a fun, sporty resort course.
Playing the Palmer Course presents two different golfing experiences. The front nine reminds the golfer of a Scottish links course, virtually without trees, while the back side winds through a tropical forest of ironwood (haole koa in Hawaiian) trees and the Punaho’olapa Marsh and Bird Sanctuary.
Be sure to consult your course guide because water comes into play on almost every hole and some of it cannot be seen from the tees or even the fairways.
Arnold Palmer enjoys Turtle Bay so much that he was married to the former Kathleen Gawthrop on the property before the start of the 2004 Turtle Bay Championship.
Somebody who probably enjoys Turtle Bay and Hawaii even more than Arnie is Hale Irwin, who won the Turtle Bay Championship five consecutive times, among his nine official titles and three Senior Skins Game victories in Hawaii.
DIRECTOR OF GOLF: Matt Hall.
LOCAL KNOWLEDGE: With five sets of tees, the Palmer Course, which plays to a par of 72 and measures 7,199 yards from the back tees, is very playable for the resort golfer of any level.
The third through seventh holes, which wrap around a large lake, provide the meat of the front nine. The par-5, 543-yard third hole is No. 1 on the index rating, with water down the left side of the fairway and bunkers surrounding the green. Be careful, because you can’t see that the water narrows the fairway considerably 220 yards from the green.
The strength of the back nine is the finish, which consists of two 450-yard par 4s and a 577-yard par-5 closing hole, where tournaments are won and lost. The 452-yard 17th, probably the signature hole of the Palmer Course, plays downwind to the ocean’s edge, with seven fairway bunkers from the driving area to the elevated green.
Tom Kite came to the 18th hole one shot behind Irwin in the 2003 Turtle Bay Championship and tried to go for the green in two across the pond that guards the wide, shallow green — which also has two bunkers waiting for shots that go long. Kite’s approach from 235 yards with a fairway wood hit the rocks short of the green and fell back in the water.
Perhaps the most memorable feature of the Fazio Course is an exceptional set of par-3 holes, with water to contend with on three of them. No. 11, the only one without a water hazard, runs along the beach and the ocean comes into play only if the tee shot is 50 or more yards offline.
The most intriguing hole on the Fazio Course is the 277-yard 14th hole, a risk/reward par 4. Take the risk and it’s possible to make a three or even a two, but there’s also a chance to make 6 or 7 because the hole is ringed by native vegetation and there is out of bounds on the left.
OTHER COURSES IN THE AREA: Among the many courses on Oahu are the Hawaii Prince Golf Club in Ewa Beach, Kapolei Golf Course and Ko Olina Golf Club in Kapolei, the West and East Courses at Makaha Golf Club in Waianae, Mid-Pacific Country Club in Wailea, Mililani Golf Club, Pearl Country Club in Aiea, Waikele Golf Course, Luana Hills Country Club in Wailea and Koolau Golf Course in Kaneohe.
WHERE TO STAY: Although the modern mega resorts certainly provide a stimulating vacation experience, there’s still nothing like discovering a slice of Old Hawaii. Anyone searching for a spot where time passes at tortoise speed might be surprised to find it on the island of Oahu at Turtle Bay, less than an hour’s drive from the frenetic activity at Waikiki in Honolulu. The sprawling 880-acre property gives guests their choice of five miles of beach, 12 miles of oceanfront hiking trails and its two magnificent championship golf courses. It’s also a short drive from the fabled surfing spots at Waimea Bay, Sunset Beach and the Bonzai Pipeline.
Those who want the action and energy of Waikiki should enjoy the Hawaii Prince Hotel, the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort and Spa, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki Resort and Spa, the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Sheraton Waikiki Resort and the Outrigger Waikiki on the Beach. Away from Honolulu is Marriott’s Ihilani Resort & Spa in Ko Olina.
ON THE WEB: www.turtlebayresort.com.