At Doral, where two thirds of the field hailed from somewhere other than the U.S., young American Nick Watney announced his arrival on the international scene with an eye-opening win
On Sunday at Doral a Marine corporal with no bullhorn and a strong voice introduced each player as he approached the Blue Monster's 18th green. Name, followed by home country. Sixty-six players came through, in groups of two. Only 22 were Americans. The game has never been more global. People were saying that all week long.
As it happens, the winner, Nick Watney, a rap-loving Californian, was paired with a fellow American, Matt Kuchar. They were in the penultimate twosome. In the final group Dustin Johnson, native son of South Carolina, played with Luke Donald, an Englishman. But would you have been surprised if the event had been won by a Dane (Anders Hansen) or an Italian (Francesco Molinari) or an Australian (Adam Scott)? Of course not. They all finished tied for sixth or better. The Cadillac Championship was a World Golf Championship that actually felt like one.
The world golf order is in a state of chaos. How fun. The superdynamic SI Golf Ranking (page G12), with its hair trigger, has been in business for only seven weeks and already has had 14 players ranked in the top 10, representing four countries. Each of those 14 players was in the field at Doral last week and will all be in the field at Augusta too. You want to look like you know what you're doing when your office Masters pool comes out, don't you? Get to know the new guys. Their likes, their dislikes, their entourages. What makes them tick.
March 20, 2011
A good place to start is with Watney, who turns 30 next month. Not only because he won last week, by two shots over Johnson with a take-that birdie on the last, but also because he has enough game to win any week. He has had top 10 finishes in each of his last seven starts, he has an unencumbered, flowing swing, and he looks like Danny Noonan in Caddyshack. His Dr. Bob (Rotella) is Dr. Mo (Morris Pickens), and his teacher is the tried and true Butch Harmon (Greg Norman, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson).
Watney is unassuming and endearing, and his capable caddie, Chad Reynolds, has sworn to not get a haircut until his man finishes outside the top 10. (Reynolds's hair, Watney says, is looking "long and nesty.") Watney's wife of five months, Amber, is a niece of Tour pro Omar Uresti. Watney putts with his glove on, and his shirts fit him as if they've done overtime in a hot dryer. Watney now has three Tour wins. Could he become the Bruce Lietzke of his generation? He could. He's that good.
Maybe this is the first time you've heard of Dr. Mo or Chad Reynolds or Amber Uresti Watney. Make room for a new wave of psychologists and caddies and wives and agents and all the rest. You know, of course, the name Mark Steinberg. But do you know the name Chubby Chandler, who represents Lee Westwood and Rory McIlory and Ernie Els? You know, of course, the name Amy Mickelson. But do you know the name Kandi Harris, a.k.a. Mrs. Hunter Mahan? You know, of course, the name Butch Harmon. But do you know the names Denis Pugh (works with Francesco Molinari) and Matt Killen (J.B. Holmes)? You know the name Tony Navarro, Scott's veteran caddie. But do you know the name Bobby Brown, Dustin Johnson's caddie? That was Brown by the so-called bunker at the PGA at Whistling Straits last year and in Jim Gray's face at Riviera this year and keeping his player calm during a longish wait on the 16th tee at Doral on Sunday. It takes a caddie a long time and many wins to become a household name. Stevie will tell you that. Bobby B. might get there himself. Everything's fluid now.
Dustin Johnson's name keeps showing up here, for cause. He's 26 and has the best chance to be his generation's Fred Couples. Like Fred, Johnson is an I-can-play-anything jock whose strikes are ridiculously pure. Like Fred, Johnson is off-the-charts long but almost nonchalant about it. He has, like Fred, a walk that's all his own, a languid strut with rolling shoulders that hints at his strength. He seems, like Fred, to always be calm. There might be more going on there than we know. His scoring average last year was 70.13, but his Sunday average was 72.16. (His final-round 82 at the U.S. Open didn't help.) Last week at Doral he led by two shots through 54 holes. A Sunday 71 in pretty gentle conditions was never going to get it done, not with that level of international talent on his spikes.
One of the things that made American golf so exciting in the pre-Tiger era was that every week somebody different seemed to go out and win himself a golf tournament. Lee Trevino did that many times. So did Raymond Floyd, Hale Irwin, Curtis Strange, Lanny Wadkins and a score of others. They played muscular golf. You could certainly say that Watney did that on Sunday at Doral. His play on the final hole was big time all the way. He drilled the drive, drilled the iron, drilled the birdie putt. It wasn't until after the fact that he was all New-Agey and charming. "I wasn't nervous," he said of the final hole. "I really wanted to take care of business and to grab this opportunity. I actually love that feeling. You don't get it too often." He considered where he was going. "I guess I was a little nervous," he said.
Press-room charm is a nice thing to be known for. With so many players emerging at once, a guy has to get himself known for something. There's nobody playing the Tour now with anything like Payne Stewart's trademark knickers. Still, distinctiveness is emerging. For now Watney is the only white golfer from Sacramento on Tour you can talk Snoop with. You can I.D. Hunter Mahan from 50 yards away, with his flat-brimmed Ping baseball hats and shades. You can do long-distance I.D.'s on D. Johnson, too, courtesy of his thriving sideburns and sprouting soul patch. You have to get a little closer to Frankie Molinari to see his pink cheeks and brooding eyes. Luke Donald is so committed to Ralph Lauren that the horses on his shirts may be measured in hands and his caddie has socks embroidered with miniature polo ponies. Golfers don't wear numbered uniforms, and red shirts on Sundays are not enough anymore.
Butch Harmon is 67 now. He works the bigger events for Sky Sports in Great Britain, and he worked the Cadillac finale for Sky in a beige sport coat with a distinctive patterned tie and a matching pocket square. His father, the first Claude, taught him never to blend, and Butch doesn't want his players to either. Nick Watney, Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, they're not exactly blending. "This is fabulous," Harmon said on Sunday night, talking about how global the game has become, more global than at any time in his life. "We're seeing a changing of the guard."
Now on GOLF.com
For insights and opinions from SI Golf Group writers, go to GOLF.com/confidential
"I wasn't nervous," said Watney. "I really wanted to take care of business."
BONUS SECTION | GOLF.COM