Tuesday Scenes From the Waste Management Phoenix Open

John Huh was testing driver shafts on the range. It can be a tedious affair; one drive after another launched into orbit. His swing was so precise, the tee barely moved. His caddie would roll another ball over to him, he would scoop it over to his foot with his driver and trap it between the driver face and the edge of his shoe. Then while gently holding the ball against his shoe, he would slightly cock his ankle, rotate his foot over the tee and delicately place the ball on the tee. I watched him do this over a dozen times. It saves a lot of bending over.

Lee Westwood was practicing bunker shots from the range practice bunker. He wasn’t quite getting the results he wanted and he was running out of balls. So his caddie grabbed another wedge and one of those little draw-string, green bags the balls come in. He went to the cluster of balls by the hole Westwood was playing to and proceeded to flip each ball in the air with the wedge in his right hand, one-bounce it off the club face and into the little green bag in his left hand. He never missed in almost two dozen attempts. 

Ken Duke, a Coke in his right hand and a little green bag overstuffed with balls in the crook of his left arm apparently squeezed the bag a little too much. He dropped a ball. When he tried to put the Coke down to pick it up, he dropped another one. And then again. About the time I was ready to go help him gather the three escapees, he gave up the chase and simply kicked them along with his foot until he got them all over to his work station, Coke and little green ball bag still secure.

James Hahn, the Cal grad who broke into the Gangnam Style dance after a successful birdie putt on the 16th green last year, was putting on a pretty impressive display of his driving prowess. He has a flawless, accelerating swing that launches the ball forever…over and over again. I’m sure he missed a couple here and there, but it was microns from the center of the club face and measurable only by him. But when I caught up to him at the crowded putting green trying a new putter a half hour later, it was a different story.

With the Tour rep standing eagerly by, he couldn’t miss straight, ten-footers from either side of the hole. He made three circuits with two balls. So he tempted fate and moved back to twenty feet. This putt had a gentle-looking left-to-right break more sinister than it looked from where he was standing. In six or eight attempts, he couldn’t get it above the hole. I left with the rep looking nervous.

On the way to the range, I crossed paths with Fred Funk smiling his way along to the clubhouse with largely oblivious patrons. Our eyes met and he said, “Hi.” His eyes never wavered as I said, “How’re you doing, Fred.” Unusual for a Tour pro caught out in the open without his caddie and bag running interference.

Also unusual was the young lady I caught up to at the putting green in a full-length, straight-falling, gauzy dress that left nothing to the imagination. My quick glances to both Fred and the young lady were much too short.

Padraig Harrington, eagerly cheerful, was back in the media center a year after confessing his chronic, daily tinkering with his swing. Where was he now with that process, I asked?

I enjoy that side of the game, but I don’t have much to do now on that side.

Really, I asked with a touch of dismay?

No.  As I said, I hit the ball last year.  Put it like this:  There’s nothing they’re going to find in my golf swing that will make me a substantially different player.  You know, I can find it in my routine, I can find it — they’re still searching for things, no doubt about that, and I still will be changing things because that’s what I do, but I don’t feel like there is a big change out there that’s going to make any difference.

So you’re pretty much leaving it alone?

I’m doing what I always did, what I have done for the last 25 years of my life, which is continue to tinker away.  It’s not like I’m searching for anything or anything like that.  I’m pretty set in my ways, but for sure there’s always — you know, the only way of staying constant is to keep moving.  I know that sounds…  But change, you know, nothing in this game stays the same.

It’s Yin‑Yang.  It’s the constantly changing that keeps you in constant.  There is no way — anybody out there, if you try and do something the exact same every day in golf, that’s not going to work out.  You’ve got to be continually evolving, you know, continually moving forward.

This game does change.  Like we just discussed earlier, they changed the grooves.  There is a lot of things that wouldn’t be — you know, they will be changing the putter rule, so whoever uses a long putter will have to respond to that.  The game is about who can handle the changes.  Tiger has gone through many changes.  Everybody.  That’s part of the game.

Could he give us a better sense of the 3-year process he went through on the groove change and why that took so long?

Yeah, I just don’t hit — I used to carry two sets of clubs to every event.  I don’t think anybody else did that.  One with one set of box grooves and one with V grooves, and I’d mix and match them in each round depending on what I wanted.  Depending on the length of the rough, sometimes you want the ball to come out spinning.  Sometimes you want the flier.

So like at a U.S. Open, you tend to use the V grooves to get the ball to move out of the rough.  A tournament like [Phoenix] you’d use more box grooves.  If there’s trees in the rough, you can’t get a box groove over of a tree — it just comes out so much lower — whereas a V groove will jump up or go over.  There is many combinations.

I used to bring two sets of golf clubs and manage my way.  I might have a box groove 7‑iron, a V groove 8‑iron, box groove 9‑iron, all sorts of different combinations.  So, you know, that changes.

You know, where I see the biggest changes is the consistency in the flight I get with my chip shots and my pitch shots.  That’s really been tough for me to try and get a consistent — you know, I hit one chip shot really well and it goes in there long spinning and the next I kind of float in there without any spin.

While neither is wrong, it’s trying to figure out to get the consistency between the two, whereas with the old grooves, everything came out low and spinning, so it was a big advantage to me to be able to work it like that.

A day in a life? More like, three years in a life. Padraig Harrington: endlessly fascinating.

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