Nationals

Belly putter creator regrets likely demise

Belly putter creator regrets likely demise

NAPLES, Fla. (AP) If not for Paul Azinger picking up a long putter that belonged to a short man, there might not be such a fuss over belly putters.

The USGA and R&A are close to announcing their position on long putters that are anchored to the body. That they have pledged to make an announcement by the end of the year has most believing a ban is imminent.

If that's the case, the guy who started it all thinks that would be a shame.

``Everybody is looking to improve their game,'' Azinger said in an interview last week. ``That technique is good for some, and it didn't work for others.''

What befuddles him is the advancements in equipment over the last 20 years, particularly with golf clubs. He referred specifically to the Great Big Bertha driver, which at the time looked enormous and had a big sweet spot. Azinger was only partially joking when he said that club now looks like a 4-wood.

``It's OK for manufacturers to figure out game improvement,'' Azinger said. ``But if a player figures it out, we're going to ban it?''

For the former PGA champion, it was more of a fluke.

He was putting poorly when he went into the pro shop while at home in Florida in late 1999, grabbing putters of the rack when he came across a long putter that is anchored to the chest. Only this one belonged to someone much shorter than Azinger.

``I grabbed it, was lining it up perfect and stuck it into my belly because of the length,'' Azinger said. ``I hit it all over the pro shop and made everything, and then walked outside and made everything.''

Azinger checked to make sure it was legal, and he was on his way. At the mixed-team event, he says he made 13 birdies and an eagle in two days of fourballs with Se Ri Pak as his partner. Alas, they lost in a playoff to John Daly and Laura Davies. Azinger took his belly putter to Hawaii and won the Sony Open by seven shots.

But here's the other side to this magical belly putter - he never won again. And he was quick to point out that while three of the last five major champions had a belly putter, it took 11 years before someone (Keegan Bradley) won a major.

``Then all of a sudden it's being looked at because some guys have success doing it,'' Azinger said. ``You don't see guys shooting 57, 58, 59 with the belly putter. ... It can help you - there's no two ways about it. But it's not helping everybody.''

In a subsequent text message, Azinger again suggested that the USGA and R&A were concerned about the wrong piece of equipment.

``The belly putter doesn't guarantee you'll putt better,'' he said. ``But today's drivers will guarantee you'll hit the ball farther.''

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WORKING FOR A LIVING: Inbee Park won the LPGA Tour money list and was the only player to crack $2 million. The LPGA had 11 players earn at least $1 million, up from eight players a year ago. But it's a different story toward the bottom.

The top 90 keep their cards, and the final spot went to Jee Young Lee, who earned $68,650. Compare that with Kevin Chappell, who got the last spot on the PGA Tour at No. 125 on the money list with $647,510. Tougher still is that the LPGA has a number of limited-field events, particularly late in the year in Asia, that only takes the top players.

It's enough to make Cristie Kerr preach about the LPGA Tour not being the glamor life for everyone.

``It's hard for a lot of these girls. It really is,'' Kerr said. ``If you're not one of the top players ... unless you're finishing in the top 20, it's really hard to make money. Expenses are high and purses aren't what they are on the PGA Tour. Somebody barely making the cut is losing money every week unless you stay in free housing and can get a free car. It's an expensive life.''

Is there much incentive for women to chase their dreams on the LPGA Tour? Kerr isn't so sure.

``I love to win. I love to compete. And I'm good at it. I'm fortunate,'' Kerr said. ``If you're 70th or 80th on the money list, it's not very motivating.''

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MOVING ON: Those who failed to make it out of the second stage of Q-school last week face an uncertain future if they don't have limited status as a past champion. That group includes Jamie Lovemark, who won the Nationwide Tour money title two years ago, and Hank Kuehne, who made double bogey on his last hole.

Past champions who failed to get through included a former Ryder Cup player (Chris Riley), two former Presidents Cup players (Carlos Franco and K.T. Kim), along with Cameron Beckman, Joe Durant, Jesper Parnevik and Chris Smith.

Among those moving to the final stage next week in California were Todd Hamilton, Robert Karlsson and Kevin Tway, the son of former PGA champion Bob Tway.

Perhaps the most intriguing was Si Kim of South Korea, the medalist at Bear Lake in California on the strength of a 61 in the second round.

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TO THE BOOTH: Former PGA champion Rich Beem failed to make it through the second stage of Q-school last week, leaving him only limited status as a past winner for what would appear to be limited room in a short season. So what's next for the Beemer?

Perhaps a move to the broadcast booth - in Europe.

Beem said he has been contacted by Sky Sports to do commentary for PGA Tour events that are shown in Europe, similar to what Butch Harmon does at the majors and the World Golf Championships. He says his experience is limited, though the job would come naturally to him.

``I've got the gift of gab,'' Beem said. ``I am full of a lot of things.''

Beem worked for TNT Sports at the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits, with two days for the 3-D coverage on the par-3 11th and par-3 17th, and then Saturday and Sunday covering the marquee group.

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DIVOTS: Titleholders winner Na Yeon Choi has donated $30,000 to the LPGA-USGA Girls Golf program to provide golf equipment to young girls starting out in the game. ``I want to give the girls my message. Have a dream and achieve it,'' Choi said. ... Of the regular PGA Tour events, the AT&T National at Congressional played the most difficult. Tiger Woods, the winner, was among only 14 players to broke par and the course played an average of 2.046 strokes over par. ... The Players Championship raised $6.5 million for local charities, breaking its record of $5.9 million from last year. ... Five Americans won on the LPGA Tour this year, the most since 2008. ... Only three players in their 40s - Steve Stricker, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els - won on the PGA Tour, the lowest number over the last 10 years. ... Gary Player will be co-host of the iGATE CEO Cup on Jan. 12-13 at the TPC Sawgrass. The tournament is inviting CEOs of Global 2000 companies to compete for a $100,000 purse, with all earnings going to their chosen charities.

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(MOST PECULIAR) STAT OF THE WEEK: Phil Mickelson saved par nine times after hitting into the water, the most of anyone on the PGA Tour this year.

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FINAL WORD: ``Congratulations on a successful surgery.'' - Stacy Lewis during her acceptance speech as LPGA player of the year, to Gary Brock, the doctor who inserted a steel rod and five screws in her back 10 years ago because of her scoliosis.

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Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

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USA Today

Stephen Strasburg makes history at the plate against Atlanta

Stephen Strasburg had the best hitting performance of his career against the Braves Thursday night, going 3-3 at the plate with two singles and a 420-foot three-run bomb. 

He didn't just set personal records but reached rare air in baseball history. He's the second pitcher ever with at least three hits, a HR, and five RBI since the DH debuted in 1973 and the fifth pitcher in the last 50 seasons to get two hits in an inning including a home run. 

Strasburg set franchise firsts with his performance, dating all the way back to the Expos. 

An extraordinary milestone for the Nationals' ace, hopefully Strasburg's performance will inspire the team during a crucial four-game series with Atlanta. 

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

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‘The Redskins love Alabama guys’: Washington could run old draft playbook in 2020 to fill huge need

Perhaps no position group on the Redskins has more questions or uncertainty than the wide receivers.

Josh Doctson enters the final year of his rookie contract, and has yet to record over 550 yards in any of his three professional seasons. Washington signed Paul Richardson to a five-year deal in 2018, but he just played in just seven games for the Burgundy and Gold in 2018 before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Second-year receiver Trey Quinn is expected to fill the role in the slot after Jamison Crowder departed for the New York Jets this offseason but has yet to prove anything on the NFL level. 

The Redskins addressed the position during the 2019 NFL Draft, selecting Terry McLaurin in the third round and Kelvin Harmon in the sixth round. But it's unclear how much either one will contribute to the Washington offense in 2019.

So, it's likely the Redskins will need to address the position during the 2020 NFL Draft, and probably very early on it. Well, this works in Washington's favor, because the 2020 wide receiver class is loaded. 

On a recent episode of the Redskins Talk podcast, J.P. Finlay and Pete Hailey spoke with NFL Draft expert Jordan Reid (no, not the Redskins' tight end) about the top wide receiver prospects heading into next year's draft, and which players the Redskins could potentially target.

Before diving into the top 2020 prospects, Reid gave an initial assessment of the current Redskins' receivers.

"The Redskins just don't have that headliner, top go-to guy," Reid said. "They were expecting Josh Doctson to be that when they did draft him in the first round of 2016. But he's had some injuries, and he's already come out and said he's looking forward to free agency. That just not something you want to hear."

Reid was high on McLaurin, though, the first receiver the Redskins selected in 2019.

"They drafted Terry McLaurin in the third round, I liked him a lot even going back to the Senior Bowl," he said. "I think he's going to have a really good year, not just as a receiver but the special teams phase as well. He's going to flash in a lot of ways."

As far as the 2020 draft wide receiver class, one school stands on top, and it's a school the Redskins are very familiar with: Alabama. The Redskins used their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 on 'Bama guys and signed another Crimson Tide alumni this offseason in safety Landon Collins.

"We know the Redskins love Alabama guys, and there's a lot of [wide receivers] coming out this year," Reid said. "It's not just Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs is another guy that's getting a lot of steam. They're going to have the chance to get the receiver they want. This is a very special wide receiver class."

Crimson Tide receiver Jerry Jeudy is the consensus top receiver in next year's class, but Reid believes his speedy teammate could challenge him for that spot by season's end.

"With Ruggs, I think he's a bit more as far as polished a route runner [than Jeudy]," he said. "I think his hands are a bit better, and I wouldn't be shocked if he runs below a 4.3 at the combine. He can absolutely fly."

If the pair of Alabama receivers currently hold the top two spots for best wide receiver prospect, there's another guy who's right on their heels: Oklahoma's Ceedee Lamb.

"He reminds me a lot of DeAndre Hopkins coming out," Reid said on Lamb. "He's not a thick guy, but he plays much stronger than what he indicates. Very reliable hands, and his body control is out of this world. He had a one-handed catch against UCLA, it didn't count, but it's truly amazing."

As a true sophomore, Lamb totaled 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, it may have helped to have Heisman Trophy winner Kyler Murray under center, but Lamb has proven he's an elite talent.

Two other prospects Reid is keeping an eye on are Colorado's Laviska Shenault Jr. and Texas' Collin Johnson.

"He's not as polished as some of these other guys, but he's more of a do-it-all type of receiver," Reid said on Shenault Jr. 

Where Shenault may be a do-it-all receiver, Johnson plays to his 6'6 size.

"He's a really good route runner," Reid said on Johnson. "It's just a matter of how consistently can he separate, and how fast he is. If he goes to the Senior Bowl, I think he can light it up."

While many of these guys seem like sure-fire guys, there's still a full season of football to be played before the draft. Players will rise, but just as many, if not more, will fall off.

"You just have to let this play out, that's what happens with the draft process," Reid said. "Guys fall off, and then you have guys that come out of nowhere. Quinton Williams from last year is a prime example. He was a 270-pound defensive end at this time last year; we had no idea who he was and he ends up being the No. 3 overall selection."

But if everything plays out close to how it's expected to, this wide receiver draft class will be one to remember. 

"This class is special man," Reid said. "I think it's going to rival 2014, with Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans and all those guys, Jarvis Landry, Davante Adams too. It's going to be very similar to that. It's very special."

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