Redskins

On the back roads of golf, tales from the tour

On the back roads of golf, tales from the tour

Dave Kindred, a preeminent American sports writer who has worked his trade for the better part of four decades, was walking down the right side of the first fairway at Kiawah Island with the final group at the PGA Championship when he mentioned he had been teaching a writing class to college students.

Like most great columnists, Kindred's strength is his power of observation, and he has tried to pass that along.

``The one thing I tell them,'' he said, ``is that if you really pay attention to what you're covering, you'll see something you've never seen before.''

He stopped and kneeled to watch Carl Pettersson, playing in the last group that Sunday with Rory McIlroy, hit his approach to the green. Pettersson was just inside the red hazard line, so he was careful not to ground his club. Brushing the top of the grass was OK.

Moments after his shot, he was approached by PGA rules official Brad Gregory and told there might be a problem.

In a bizarre development, Pettersson's club nicked a leaf on the way back, a violation of Rule 13-4c for moving a loose impediment in a hazard. After an exhaustive video review, Pettersson was given the bad news - a two-stroke penalty - on the fourth hole.

Pay attention and you never know what you'll see.

That much was true in a wild year of golf. Phil Mickelson lost his bid at the Masters by hitting two shots right-handed. Rory McIlroy was confused by the time zone and needed a police escort to get to the final day of the Ryder Cup on time. Tiger Woods never found his golf ball, was not penalized and still missed the cut.

Those have been well-documented. What follows is the 2012 edition of ``Tales from the Tour,'' the obscure moments that keep golf so interesting and entertaining.

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Kyle Stanley is a quiet man. This was a quiet celebration.

One week after he made triple bogey on the 18th hole at Torrey Pines and then lost in a playoff, he rallied from eight shots behind on the final day with a 65 in the Phoenix Open to win his first PGA Tour event. It was a remarkable turnaround. One week he faced the media after his meltdown and fought back tears. The next week he was a winner.

Stanley was invited to a Super Bowl party that night at the home of Jim Mackay, the longtime caddie of Phil Mickelson. He was late to the party because of the media obligations that come with winning. When he finally arrived, Stanley knocked and then walked in the door holding the oversized winner's check over his head.

He quietly placed it above the TV, and then sat down to watch the game, a player at peace.

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No other golfer spends more time with the media after every round than Ryo Ishikawa, who is treated like a rock star in Japan. When he signs his card, even when it's late in the day, it's not unusual for the 21-year-old to spend close to an hour fulfilling his media obligations.

That's where ``The Chair'' comes in.

His handlers have a white folding chair for Ishikawa as he endures two interviews with different television stations. A dozen or so reporters form a semi-circle around him as they wait and listen, occasionally jotting down notes. Then, it's their turn. They spent close to 15 minutes with Ishikawa after his round at Innisbrook, going over the clubs he used and shots he hit on just about every hole - this after a 73 that left him 12 shots out of the lead.

Finally, he was finished. He got up from the chair and walked around the clubhouse toward the parking lot. The Japanese reporters followed him, walking in a group about 20 yards behind. One of them was asked where they were going.

``Now we wave goodbye,'' the reporter explained.

Indeed, they stood on a sidewalk and waved as Ishikawa's car drove by them.

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Butch Harmon was talking retirement in the spring. He turned 69 this year. A Vietnam War vet, he has been teaching most of his life, working for Sky Sports and traveling the world, which is starting to take its toll. He worries about the day when his attention span is short or he doesn't care as much as he once did.

``It's not there, but it's coming,'' he said. ``I will never step away. I'll always teach. I love to teach.''

The next morning, he was on the range at Quail Hollow waiting for Phil Mickelson to arrive. Gary Christian , a 40-year-old PGA Tour rookie from England, walked over and introduced himself. Christian said he was fascinated to watch so many Americans use the leading edge of the club on wedge shots. They chatted for a few minutes and after Christian walked away, Harmon said, ``Who was that?''

Harmon nodded when told about Christian's back story, how he came to America on a college scholarship, supported himself by selling steak knives and toiled in the minor leagues for 15 years before finally making it to the big leagues.

Still no sign of Mickelson.

A few minutes later, Harmon walked over to Christian. He spent a few minutes observing, and then pulled a wedge from the bag and gave an impromptu lesson.

He'll always teach. He loves to teach.

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You've seen the sign at the baggage claim to check your luggage because some bags may look alike. That goes for golf travel bags, too.

Nick Watney and Angel Cabrera arrived in San Francisco for the U.S. Open about the same time, on different flights. Cabrera kept waiting at oversized luggage for his bag to come out, and he began to think the airlines had lost it. There was only one golf bag there, and it belonged to Watney.

That's when the light came on.

Cabrera's agent called the person in charge of U.S. Open courtesy cars and asked them to stop Watney on his way out.

Sure enough, Cabrera's golf bag was in his trunk.

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The relationship three-time major champion Padraig Harrington has with reporters is unlike that of any other player, especially the Irish media.

He was giving an interview to Greg Allen of Irish radio station RTE, and after they finished, Harrington began making small talk. He asked Allen, ``I heard you lost your sunglasses?'' Allen's shoulders slumped as he told Harrington he had misplaced his glasses and didn't know where to look for them.

Harrington didn't commiserate. He smiled.

``They're in my locker,'' he said. ``You left them behind the other day.''

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Sung Kang received elite training in South Korea's national program that is producing more and more top players, but he worked equally hard on his English and speaks beautifully for someone who has played the PGA Tour only the last few years.

Turns out he has been coming to America twice a year since 2002 to work on his golf, and he devoted just as much effort to the language.

In Florida? California?

``Dallas,'' Kang said. ``I went to the Hank Haney schools, so I would work with Haney and learned English there in Texas.''

Some things, however, still get lost in translation. Kang was asked if he ever bought cowboy boots from all that time spent in Dallas.

``No,'' he said. ``I don't really like the NFL. I'm more of a Lakers fan.''

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The British Open has a massive scoreboard in the press center where a group of volunteers, most of them women in their early 20s, move ladders on rails from side to side as they post the score of every hole for every player.

Press officers often check to see which players they should bring in for interviews the first two rounds as the leaderboard is taking shape. In the second round, Adam Scott had a 67 to get within one shot of the lead with several players still on the course.

The announcement over the intercom: ``Can we see a show of hands for Adam Scott?''

Six young women posting scores all raised their hands.

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About two dozen fans waiting for autographs behind the ninth green on the Magnolia Course at Disney got more than they expected. Brian Harman emerged from the scoring trailer after the final PGA Tour event of the year and said, ``Who's left-handed?''

One man came forward, and it turned out to be his lucky day.

Harman went over to his bag, removed all the irons and handed them to the fan. Turns out Harman wanted to try something different at Disney, so he used irons with graphite shafts. He described it as the worst ball-striking week he had all year.

``I just wanted to try some different stuff,'' Harman said. ``And now I know what was not the answer.''

No other sports organization comes close to the amount of charity produced by the PGA Tour. Harman took it to a new level.

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Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins is completing just 55-percent of his attempts as a pro quarterback so far, has thrown three touchdowns against seven interceptions and is averaging only 166 yards per start.

All of those numbers hint at how Haskins must grow as a passer in the NFL. However, those aspects are secondary to the area he needs to improve the most as he continues to see action for the Redskins.

The facet of his game that requires the most work is avoiding sacks. Yes, his accuracy and decision-making and choices in the red zone are all important, but none of those things will get better or reveal themselves if No. 7 is lying on his back and looking at the sky as much as he's doing so far.

The rookie has been dropped 22 times in his five appearances as starter, and 26 times overall. According to The Athletic, if you take the rate which Haskins is being sacked at as the team's primary signal caller and extrapolate it over a full schedule, it'd add up to the third-worst total in league history.  

So, yeah, that's extremely troublesome. 

On Wednesday, Haskins explained how his desire to be aggressive is partly causing this issue to be such an issue.

"Sometimes when I'm back there, I'm trying to find things deep or down the field instead of just finding the checkdown in the flat," he said.

As for how to remedy that, the 22-year-old told the media it's about being more aware of his immediate options.

"Just knowing where all my quick elements are when things happen fast and when things get on me," Haskins said.

Of course, each sack is its own entity, and not all of them fall on the guy with the ball. There have been instances this year where Haskins will go down and a replay will show an offensive lineman immediately getting beaten, the kind of sequence that will make any QB vulnerable. Not all of the negative plays are happening because of where Haskins is in his development.

However, to compare, Case Keenum was sacked just 12 times in his eight starts behind the same O-line. That's a significantly lower number.

Just like every other part of Haskins' skill set, this is something that should get sharper with experience. Every Sunday, assuming he gets a lot more, will lead to him becoming more adept at reading defenses, more proficient at adjusting protection calls and more prepared to find his outlet options.  

Keenum has seen all that there is to see in the NFL, while Haskins is just beginning that arduous process.

And, while Bill Callahan admitted he hates seeing the offense plagued by the sacks, the interim coach also detailed something beyond experience that could help Haskins limit them in the future.

"He's not a repetitive guy, a repetitive-mistake player, where you see continually the small mistakes over and over again," Callahan said. "He makes a mistake, he recognizes it, he moves on and you don't see a repetitive error come back into his game. There's been a lot of growth in that respect."

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

BALTIMORE — If there was a lone dark spot on the Ravens’ 42-21 win over the Jets, it was the special teams. 

From kickoff coverage to even Justin Tucker, each particular unit had its fair share of struggles. The Jets blocked a punt — and scored, had long returns on both kickoff and punt returns and Tucker missed an extra-point. 

“We played really well on special teams last week,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We played not well at all this week. So, that’s an area of concern right now. I give them credit. They played really well, but we didn’t.”

The trouble started from the get-go when the Jets had a good return on the opening kick. They carried that throughout the game, as Ty Montgomery and Vyncint Smith averaged kickoff returns of 23.3 and 28.7 yards, respectively. Smith had a long of 37 yards and Montgomery had a long of 34 yards.

Then on the Ravens second touchdown of the night, Tucker missed an extra point — a rarity for the league’s most consistent kicker. Before Thursday’s game, he’d missed just one extra point all season and one field goal. 

While it’s nothing to be concerned about, any miss for Tucker is certainly surprising. 

And finally, in the fourth quarter, the Jets bull-rushed up the middle through the Ravens’ punt team and blocked the kick for a score.

Baltimore’s special teams units have been stellar all season, so Thursday’s game isn’t something to fret over long-term. But it’s certainly something to monitor as the games tighten, leaving little room for error on the margins.  

“We just have to get better,” Harbaugh said of the returns. “They were basically blocking us. They blocked our guys on the kickoff return. They did a great job with it. They ran a little pick-stunt on the blocked punt that we should have picked up with no problem, and we didn’t. That’s an issue for us.”

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